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Research to Support Management of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

This project began in January 2010 and was completed in June 2014

We conducted an assessment of biological resources in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, to serve as the basis for future sanctuary management decisions. This baseline assessment will also guide placement of a research-only area that can serve as a control site to help assess impacts, including fishing, coral bleaching and disease, and the possible invasion of lionfish.

Why We Care
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is located in the northwest Gulf of Mexico, about 97 nautical miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, and is one of the most pristine coral reefs in the region. The sanctuary’s extensive coral community supports a high abundance of coral reef fishes and associated marine organisms. Currently, officials are revising the sanctuary’s management plan to better gauge impacts from climate change, oil spills, fishing, and other human factors. Our assessment will provide a baseline from which to measure change in sanctuary resources into the future.

What We Are Doing
We are gathering ecosystem data to determine the boundary for the research area and to develop biological metrics to monitor and assess change. The objectives of this work are to:

  1. Develop a sampling design and monitoring strategy for benthic (seafloor) fish communities in the sanctuary using four sampling methods: scuba-diving, technical diving, hydroacoustics, (sonar tuned to detecting fish), and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
  2. Develop a quantitative baseline of information of the benthic fish communities, including their abundance, composition, and location with regard to seafloor habitat.
  3. Recommend research area boundaries based on the data gathered.
  4. Recommend key biological indicators that are the most sensitive for revealing impacts for use in future surveys.

What We Found
This project updated habitat maps for East and West Flower Garden Banks to provide a better spatial inventory of sanctuary habitats, which will help guide future monitoring efforts. Habitat maps were classified according to Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standards, the national habitat classification framework. This study provides the first spatially comprehensive fish and benthic habitat assessment for the entire coral reef (18-46m) and a survey design for future monitoring. This research expands on prior deep-water characterizations conducted with ROVs by providing baseline assessments of fish, coral and other benthic invertebrate communities. An ROV-based survey design was developed for future deepwater monitoring. Overall, the project generated baselines conditions for fish and benthic invertebrates of East and West Banks that will be critical information for sanctuary managers to quantify potenital impacts from recreational fishing, scuba diving, climate and anthropogenic stressors.

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