The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation issued the following statement in support of the recommendation by the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) to expand Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary:
The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation commends the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary SAC for their work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on a proposal to expand Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (NMS).
Today’s action is a win-win for conservation and stakeholders that rely on the Gulf. Expanding Flower Garden Banks benefits commercial fisheries, local tourism operators like dive shops and recreational fishing vessels, the scientific community, and future generations.
“Expansion of Flower Garden Banks NMS will ensure more comprehensive and effective protection, research, management, and coordination of sustainable activities in sensitive and ecologically significant areas in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Kris Sarri, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
Located far off the coast of Texas and Louisiana, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary includes the northernmost coral reefs in the continental United States and plays an essential role in the health of the Gulf of Mexico. The reefs and banks of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico support critical deep water habitats, including brilliant reef building corals and sponge assemblages atop underwater mountains, and a stunning bounty of wildlife. This network of reefs and banks throughout the Gulf provides habitat important to many recreational and commercial fish species, including red snapper, mackerel, grouper, and wahoo. They are corridors for 15 threatened and endangered species of marine life, including whales, sea turtles, rays, and corals.
The Sanctuary’s reefs have long been considered the healthiest in the Gulf. Efforts to protect additional areas of the Gulf of Mexico by expanding Flower Garden Banks NMS started in 2007 when the Sanctuary Management Plan included sanctuary expansion as one of six priority issues. The Flower Garden Banks SAC formed a Boundary Expansion Work Group (BEWG) to provide information, proposed boundary alternatives, and final recommendations on management strategies to be considered by the full SAC and the sanctuary superintendent. Today’s vote by the full SAC on the recommendations of the BEWG allows the proposal to move forward to NOAA for consideration.