A U.S. National Marine Sanctuary is a zone within United States waters where the marine environment enjoys special protection. The program began in 1972 in response to public concern about the plight of marine ecosystems.
East Flower Garden Bank (EFGB) and West Flower Garden Bank (WFGB), were designated by NOAA as Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) when it was initially created in 1992. In 1996, Stetson Bank was added to the sanctuary. It is located 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.
The three banks, encompassing approximately 56 square miles, include the northernmost coral reefs in the continental United States, deep-water reef communities and other essential habitats for a variety of marine species. NOAA and their partners recently gave the reefs in this sanctuary the highest score in an assessment of U.S. coral reef health.
Recently, NOAA announced it is expanding Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary from approximately 56 square miles to approximately 160 square miles to protect additional important Gulf of Mexico habitat.
In a press release NOAA said the expansion adds 14 additional reefs and banks that provide important habitat for recreationally and commercially important fish, such as red snapper, mackerel, grouper and wahoo, as well as threatened or endangered species of sea turtles, corals and giant manta rays. The expansion extends existing sanctuary protections to these new areas to limit impact of activities such as fishing with bottom-tending gear, ship anchoring, oil and gas exploration and production, and salvage activities on sensitive biological resources.
“Adding these ecologically significant reefs and banks will protect habitats that contribute to America’s blue economy and drive ecological resilience for much of the Gulf of Mexico region’s thriving recreation, tourism, and commercial fishing,” said retired Navy rear admiral Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “Expanding Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary also advances NOAA’s mission to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources for future generations.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA