A recently completed three-year assessment of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the first to comprehensively describe fish and benthic communities across the full depth range of the sanctuary (60-400′). Fish and benthic community information collected by three complementary techniqueswere employedto collectbiological information to address the potential impacts of fishing activities in the sanctuaryandother management concerns.
Key findings from the assessment include:
- The communities of coral reefs observed in FGBNMS are stable and relatively healthy. The sanctuary’s coral reefs are possibly the least impacted in the region.
- The sonar used to detect fish revealed that the number of large fish (greater than 12 inches) on West Flower Garden Bank was three to 10 times greater than other coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. Caribbean and Florida.
- Non-native lionfish began invading the sanctuary during this three-year study period.
- Data on fish communities indicate economically valuable fish species (groupers and snappers) and top predators (sharks) were larger and more abundant in waters deeper than 108 feet.
- Improved maps of sea floor habitats were created for East and West Flower Garden Banks to more accurately identify habitats throughout the sanctuary.
- Recommendationsincluding expanding the frequency of monitoring activities and including deeper reefs in monitoring efforts.
The full report, ” Fish and Benthic Communities of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary: Science to Support Sanctuary Management “, was released on September 12, 2014. It supports the National Ocean Service objective of place-based conservation and represents a significant collaboration, including NOAA’sNational Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), National Marine Fisheries Service, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the Cooperative Institute of Ocean Research and Technology, and Texas A&M University at Galveston.
For more information, contact Randy.Clark@noaa.gov.