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Biogeographic Assessment to Support Management of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

This project is formed from a long-term agreement between NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and NCCOS. Other partners include the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, & Technology and the NOAA Undersea Research Center, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.


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Objectives

This project will gather sufficient 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 as follows.

  1. Develop a sampling design and monitoring strategy for benthic fish communities on the coral  caps, using four sampling methods; Scuba diving, technical diving, hydroacoustics, and remotely operated vehicle (ROV)
  2. Develop a spatial and quantitative baseline of information of the benthic fish communities, their structure and their associated benthic habitats. (Initial assessment completed, 2009; see link below)
  3. Develop an integrated process to determine a research area, and
  4. Develop a suite of indicators for subsequent monitoring.
Map of northwest Gulf of Mexico showing study areas of West and East Flower Garden Banks.
Map of northwest Gulf of Mexico showing study areas of West and East Flower Garden Banks.
Map from Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Project Summary

The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGNMS) is located in the northwest Gulf of Mexico, about 97 nautical miles southeast of Galveston, Texas. One of the most pristine coral reefs in the tropical western Atlantic, the Sanctuary’s coral community supports a high abundance of coral reef fishes and associated marine organisms. Currently, the Sanctuary is evaluating its management plan to better understand impacts to climate change, oil spill response, fishing, and other anthropogenic factors.  In order to understand if the sanctuaries resources are changing as a response to a stressor, the baseline is necessary to be able to quantify that change.

Fish and benthic community data collection began in 2006.  Community data is being collected by four methods: visual SCUBA surveys (shallow 20-33 m; moderate depth 33-50 m via technical SCUBA), remotely operated vehicles (ROV) at depths of 50-140 m; hydroacoustics (all depth ranges).  Each sampling method will be implemented annually over the span of three years (2010-2012).  Data will be analyzed to determine the location of the research area and the appropriate biological metrics to monitor following the implementation of the research area.

To date, we have developed a sampling design, a biogeographic characterization report, and a sampling design tool for ArcGIS; we have conducted two ROV cruises and two  shallow SCUBA cruises (2010-2011), one technical SCUBA cruise (2011); hydroacoustic fish surveys have been collected on all those cruises.

FY12 data collection is currently being planned.  Future products include:  a report on the development and analytical approach for the baseline information, field data, maps, images, and more. Monitoring of the research area will continue for at least eight years.

Grouper Diver ROV
The FGBNMS supports a strong grouper population. Photo by NOAA's Biogeography Branch. A diver conducts a visual survey on benthic and fish community structure. Photo by Biogeography Branch An ROV will be used to explore the deeper portions of the sanctuary, Photo by Lance Horn, NURC/UNCW.

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Time Frame

Ongoing: 2010 - 2013

For More Information

Project Manager:
Building 1100, Suite 101
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529
228-688-3732