The productivity and health of the marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico serves as the foundation for a multitude of economic benefits and industries as well as diverse communities and stakeholders. In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Gulf of Mexico is at risk. Expansion of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is a solution: It will ensure more comprehensive and effective protection, research, management and coordination of sustainable activities in sensitive and ecologically significant areas in the Gulf.
The network of reefs and banks throughout the Gulf of Mexico provides habitat for snapper, grouper, and other recreationally and commercially important fish. They are corridors for threatened and endangered marine life, including whales, sea turtles, and corals. Since its creation in 1992, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary played an essential role in understanding and improving the health of the Gulf through research, monitoring and conservation.
Public comments were submitted in 2016 to NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries on the draft expansion alternatives, including proposed boundaries and potential impacts. NOAA is currently reviewing these comments to develop the final expansion plan.
Why Flower Garden Banks Expansion Matters
The expansion provides opportunities for exploration and science to better understand the marine life, habitats, and geological features in these critical areas. Expanding the boundaries would address concerns about environmental damage from unregulated activity, fishing safety regulations, and greater protections for sensitive resources, important habitat sites and cultural resources located in these special areas.
Expanding Flower Garden Banks NMS also supports several important aspects of Deepwater Horizon-related and wider Gulf of Mexico habitat restoration. In the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Task Force’s “Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy,” the Sanctuary is specifically mentioned as one of the critical areas that should be protected and managed as part of a network of ecologically significant offshore sites to enhance the Gulf’s overall biological productivity and resilience.
The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation strongly supports this expansion to protect rare coral assemblages, critical fish habitat, unique geological features, and other important resources to ensure the Gulf of Mexico remains a healthy and productive ecosystem. The Foundation funds significant research and conservation activities in and adjacent to the sanctuary which have played vital roles in informing Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary management decisions and are currently supporting additional mapping and surveying for the expansion process.