Bouma Bank (NOAA)
NOAA Nationwide Ocean Service
Among the healthiest coral reefs on the planet are positioned within the Gulf of Mexico, miles off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. Rising atop huge salt domes, three stunning reefs – East and West Flower Backyard Banks and Stetson Bank – are protected by NOAA’s Flower Backyard Banks Nationwide Marine Sanctuary. Now, the sanctuary is proposing to increase to guard 14 extra reefs.
The proposal would enhance the sanctuary’s protected space from 56 sq. miles to 160 sq. miles. These reefs present habitat for economically vital fish species, in addition to for threatened and endangered species of sea turtles and corals. The sanctuary is asking the general public to weigh in on this proposal now via July 3.
Flower Backyard Banks Nationwide Marine Sanctuary was first designated in 1992 to guard East and West Flower Backyard Banks. These banks are capped with extraordinary wholesome coral reefs dominated by large mind and star corals. In 1996, Congress added Stetson Bank to the sanctuary. Stetson Bank harbors a thriving sponge and coral neighborhood, offering habitat for fish and colourful invertebrates. Through the years, the sanctuary has ensured that these reefs have been capable of thrive.
“The coral cover at the Flower Gardens is greater now than it was when I was studying them in the 70s and 80s,” says Dr. Tom Brilliant, an oceanographer after whom Brilliant Bank, one of many proposed growth areas, is known as. Brilliant was one of many first to doc the Flower Backyard Banks and search protected standing for them. The elevated coral cowl is “a good sign, because it means the reefs are hanging in there even when a lot of reefs worldwide are deteriorating.”
Whereas the reefs throughout the sanctuary are prospering, others within the area are beneath menace. The Gulf of Mexico is economically vital: it helps regionally and globally vital business fisheries, and can be a hub for oil and fuel drilling. However these actions additionally place Gulf ecosystems in danger. Backside-tending fishing gear and anchors can injury corals, whereas oil spills, drilling, and different oil extraction actions may threaten these fragile ecosystems. International developments, too, like invasive species and ocean warming and acidification attributable to local weather change, pose a hazard to the reefs.
Particles left by people can injury delicate habitats. Right here, a college of grey snapper, creole fish, and vermilion snapper swim over an anchor chain mendacity throughout a reef at Alderdice Bank. Photograph: NOAA/UNCW-UVP
The Gulf of Mexico helps regionally and globally vital business fisheries. Right here, a scamp, a sort of grouper, swims at Geyer Bank. Photograph: NOAA/UNCW-UVP
Enlargement of the sanctuary emerged as one of many prime precedence points throughout a overview of the sanctuary’s administration plan in 2012. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, which resulted within the largest marine oil spill in U.S. historical past, additionally accelerated curiosity in growth, with authorities scientists and non-governmental organizations urging extra protections for marine life and Gulf habitats.
“My hope is to keep these reefs in their current healthy state,” says Captain Scott Hickman, proprietor of Circle H Outfitters and Charters and chair of the Sanctuary Advisory Council. “Part of this expansion is about leaving it all better off than we found it.”
With that in thoughts, in June 2016, NOAA launched a draft proposal for increasing the sanctuary. The sanctuary acquired a complete of 8,491 feedback on the proposal, with 74 % in favor of growth. After working intently with the Sanctuary Advisory Council and constituents, NOAA has created an up to date proposal that features 14 reefs and banks.
What Would the Enlargement Look Like?
Brilliant Bank. Photograph: NOAA
The proposed growth would defend 14 extra reefs and banks within the Gulf of Mexico: Horseshoe, MacNeil, Rankin, 28 Fathom, Brilliant, Geyer, Elvers, McGrail, Sonnier, Bouma, Rezak, Sidner, Alderdice, and Parker banks. These reefs vary in depth from 62 to 686 ft. They help a variety of habitats, together with basalt spires from historic volcanoes and reefs within the ocean’s mesophotic zone, also called the “twilight zone.” These reefs harbor intensive populations of black corals, octocorals, and sponges, and habitat for deeper species of commercially vital fish.
“With coral ecosystems under threat worldwide from a variety of impacts, we need additional protection for these important ecosystems,” says G.P. Schmahl, superintendent of Flower Backyard Banks Nationwide Marine Sanctuary. “The addition of new reefs and banks in the sanctuary will help increase the resilience of marine ecosystems that provide essential services for the Gulf of Mexico region and help support local economies.”
Nationwide marine sanctuaries are multiple-use areas dedicated to balancing safety and stewardship with the financial value these locations maintain. The growth would prolong present sanctuary protections to those areas to restrict the harmful influence of actions associated to fishing with bottom-tending gear, ship anchoring, oil and fuel exploration and manufacturing, and salvage actions. Nonetheless, actions like diving and leisure fishing would proceed to be allowed.
How You Can Get Concerned
Members of the general public can present enter on any side of the growth proposal via July 3. Three digital conferences are deliberate June 8-11 for the general public to be taught extra in regards to the proposal and submit feedback in particular person. For extra info, go to https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/information/apr20/flower-garden-banks-national-marine-sanctuary-proposes-expansion.html.
The opinions expressed herein are the writer’s and never essentially these of The Maritime Govt.