Understanding potential fishing impacts has been identified as a priority management issue at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. In May, scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and partnering agencies conducted the second of three planned remotely operated vehicle (ROV) cruises to develop baseline information about the sanctuary’s deepwater fish and benthic communities. The sanctuary provides habitat for many important commercial and recreational fish species, as well as ecologically important benthic communities, i.e., mesophotic coral species.
The majority of the sanctuary is deeper than 50 meters and knowledge of these communities is necessary for understanding the ecosystem and proper sanctuary management. However, fish and benthic communities are poorly quantified at depths greater than 50 meters. Therefore the team has developed and is implementing a three-year sampling strategy that will conclude in FY2012. The ROV data is supplemental to data being collected using scuba techniques at shallow portions of the sanctuary to provide a comprehensive baseline assessment for the sanctuary.
The baseline data will be used as a measure to assess an experimental closure within the sanctuary. Partners in the mission include: the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, the National Undersea Research Center and the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology.