One hundred miles off the Texas and Louisiana coasts and the only sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) is home to an ecosystem created by water from 31 states and Canada.
Its deep water habitat includes salt domes, which are underwater mountains, and the reef-building corals that live on top of those formations. Those who visit for sportfishing and diving can see coral heads bigger than cars and a bounty of wildlife including whales, sea turtles, mollusks, crustaceans, birds, rays and hundreds of species of fish. Below the coral cap in deeper water are additional species including gorgonians and black corals.
While Flower Garden Banks offers outstanding recreation, its distant location makes it a major center for research and conservation activities, many supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
Since 2011, the Foundation funded annual scientific cruises to monitor the Sanctuary’s coral sites’ health. Researchers record conditions and detect early warning signs including impact of climate change and potential environmental crime. Scientists use the long-term data to establish baselines, understand changes and assess why reefs become unhealthy. This ongoing record was invaluable in 2016 when the Sanctuary discovered a massive coral die-off in its East Bank. While the event has stabilized, the Foundation has committed additional funding to support further monitoring in 2017. The Foundation also funds economic impact studies on commercial and recreational activity in the area to understand use and inform protection planning and potential expansion.
The Sanctuary is also committed to learning and outreach. With Foundation funding, it currently manages a project educating Houston and Galveston students about loggerhead turtles and expanding the Ocean Guardian program into Texas.
All these research, science, conservation and recreation opportunities will benefit if the Sanctuary expands its boundaries. Currently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is evaluating the expansion based on public comment.
Related Links :Flower Garden Banks NMS Website
“Since Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is over 100 miles offshore and most people will never see it in person, the next best thing is to see it virtually! As a result, a critical part of our education effort is working with community partners to create and share exhibits about the Sanctuary. To date, our efforts include zoo and aquarium exhibits, from 100 gallons to over 600,000 gallons; interactive video kiosks in zoos, aquariums and museums; and a traveling exhibit that moves to a different location every six to 12 months. These exhibits range from Texas to Colorado to Tennessee. It’s my privilege to work with these partners and bring the sanctuary’s reefs to life for new audiences across the country.”