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Divers Observe Coral Bleaching while Collecting Data for an Experimental Fishing Closure at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

reefs

The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is one of the most pristine reefs under U.S. jurisdiction in the tropical western Atlantic. Photo: NCCOS.

A team of researchers from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and partnering organizations recently completed scuba surveys to determine fish and benthic community structure on the shallow coral caps of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). This effort is part of a comprehensive, two-year project to establish baseline data on the condition of the biological resources within the sanctuary prior to the establishment of a proposed eight to 10 year experimental fishing closure with the Sanctuary.

school of jacks

A school of jacks observed in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, one of the most pristine reef ecosystems under U.S. jurisdiction in the tropical western Atlantic. Photo: NCCOS.

Data from the surveys, along with information on the deeper coral caps (110’-150’) and other deep habitats (> 150’), will be used to determine closure location and to develop a monitoring strategy to evaluate the efficacy of the proposed closure. In addition to the scuba surveys, hydroacoustic technology was used to estimate nocturnal fish densities and algal samples were collected for investigation of ciguatera toxins. Scientists also observed the onset of a coral bleaching event in the Sanctuary at Stetson Bank, East Bank and West Bank.  Photos from the mission will be available at the Photo Browser of NCCOS’s Coral Reef Fish Database in Winter 2010/2011.

bleached coral

Bleached fire coral with a Christmas tree worm on top, from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, 2010

This mission was a collaborative effort funded in part by the Coral Reef Conservation Program and supported by researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and the FGBNMS.

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Shorter web link for sharing: http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/news/?p=1762

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