November 13, 2008
A new NOAA report on the health of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary indicates that the sanctuary’s marine life and habitats are in good overall condition but face emerging threats from potential oil spills, invasive species, commercial development, climate change and underwater noise pollution.
“The report shows us that even though the sanctuary is 115 miles offshore, this special ocean place is connected to other habitats in the Gulf that are also vulnerable to human activities,” said G.P. Schmahl, sanctuary superintendent. “The report serves as a benchmark of the current health of the sanctuary that will help us develop effective ways to preserve and protect it for future generations to enjoy.”
While habitat conditions were deemed good, water and living resource quality were rated lower in the report, primarily because of recent findings of high levels of ciguatoxin and mercury in fish, and concerns over the abundance of key fish species such as grouper, jacks and snapper. The report points to the need for continued research on how the removal of predatory fish species can affect the rest of the ecosystem.
Prepared by the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the peer-reviewed Flower Garden BanksNational Marine Sanctuary Condition Report also notes gaps in protection for other reefs and banks in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico could compromise the condition of the sanctuary, which is important to the overall health of the ecosystem throughout the region.
The status and trends of the three main resource categories examined in the report — water, habitat and living resources — are clearly summarized in a color-coded table ranging from “good” to “poor,” with notes on the basis for the ratings and sanctuary responses to various pressures.
The first report of this kind about the sanctuary provides a baseline for monitoring changes to sanctuary resources and identifying research and management priorities. It also helps set the stage for the development of a comprehensive draft management plan for the sanctuary. Similar reports are being developed for the other sites in the National Marine Sanctuary System.
The full sanctuary condition report is now available online.
Located 115 miles off the Texas-Louisiana coast, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is one of 14 marine protected areas managed by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Designated by Congress in 1992, the sanctuary includes the two northernmost coral reefs in the continental United States, coral communities, and other habitats.
NOAA works to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.