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NOTICE OF INTENT FOR EXPANSION

Map of northwestern Gulf of Mexico showing recommended sanctuary expansion areas
Advisory Council recommendation for sanctuary expansion (click on map to see larger image)

On February 3, 2015, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries announced that it will prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to consider possible expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Expansion of the sanctuary emerged as one of the top priority issues during a comprehensive review of the Flower Garden Banks NMS management plan, which included significant public input.  Sanctuary Expansion is one of six action plans that are included in the resulting management plan published in April 2012.

When Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) was designated in 1992, the boundaries were established based on best available information regarding biologically sensitive habitats.  Subsequent advances in technology have revealed sensitive habitats between East and West Flower Garden Banks and around Stetson Bank that were not included within the original sanctuary boundary.

Map of Stetson Bank showing surrounding ring
Map of Stetson Bank and the sanctuary boundary. The ring of features around the bank, visible in this map, were unknown at the time of its addition to the sanctuary in 1996.
(click on map to see larger image)

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Additional exploration in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico has identified other reefs, banks and associated features that may be ecologically linked to FGBNMS and may also be highly vulnerable to certain human impacts.  Although many of these areas have some level of protection through other designations, inclusion in the sanctuary would provide a comprehensive management framework to fill in the existing regulatory gaps and provide necessary protection to these critical habitats.

Western section of a map showing existing management zones in northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Western section of northwestern Gulf of Mexico showing existing management zones
(click on map to see larger image)

Eastern section of a map showing existing management zones in northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Eastern section of northwestern Gulf of Mexico showing existing management zones
(click on map to see larger image)

On May 9, 2012, the Flower Garden Banks Sanctuary Advisory Council unanimously recommended implementation of the Sanctuary Expansion Action Plan as soon as possible. The advisory council is comprised of representatives of the major constituent and user groups associated with the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary, including diving, fishing, conservation, education, research and the oil and gas industry.

The scoping period for this Notice of Intent ended on April 6, 2015 and all comments were submitted to NOAA by close of business on that date. These comments were used to guide development of the alternatives for sanctuary expansion proposed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

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SCOPING MEETINGS/COMMENTS

Three scoping meetings were held for the public to learn more about the Notice of Intent and submit comments.

The following meetings were held:

New Orleans, LA:  
Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 6-8 pm
Hilton New Orleans Airport
Cocodrie Room
901 Airline Drive
Kenner, LA  70062

Houston, TX:  
Thursday, March 5, 2015, 6-8 pm
Bayland Community Center
6400 Bissonnet
Houston, TX 77074

Galveston, TX:  
Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 6-8 pm
Flower Garden Banks NMS Office
NOAA Galveston Laboratory
4700 Avenue U, Building 216
Galveston, TX  77551

Comments were also submitted via:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Submit electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal with Docket Number NOAA-NOS-2014-0154.

Mail: George Schmahl, Sanctuary Superintendent, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, 4700 Avenue U, Building 216, Galveston, Texas 77551

For more information, contact fgbexpansion@noaa.gov or call 409-621-5151, ext 105.

Download Press Release (197kb pdf)

Link to Federal Register Notice

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