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Characterizing Fish and Invertebrates of the Shallow Coral Reefs of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

This project began in July 2006 and was completed in December 2009

We characterized the coral and fish communities on the sanctuary’s shallow reefs based on data collected in 2006 and 2007. We focused on two management goals: 1) to develop a sampling design for monitoring benthic fish communities on the coral reefs; and 2) to obtain a spatial and quantitative biogeographic assessment of those fish communities and their associated habitats. Sanctuary managers will use the information to track and monitor changes in the marine eco-systems within the Sanctuary.

Why We Care
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGNMS) is located in the northwest Gulf of Mexico, about 97 nautical miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, and is one of the healthiest 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 Did
The current study complements previous monitoring efforts by providing a more spatially comprehensive sampling design for and characterization of the coral caps down to 33.5 meters (110 feet). Basic monitoring and research efforts have been conducted on the Banks since the 1970s, but these efforts focused primarily on describing the benthic com-munities (corals, sponges) and providing qualitative characterizations of the fish community. Subsequently, more quantitative work has been conducted; however, it has been limited in spatial scope.

Next Steps
We are continuing to assess the biological resources of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, to guide placement of a research-only areas that can serve as a control site to help assess impacts associated with fishing and invasion of lionfish.

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