Final Rule for Sanctuary Expansion
On January 19, 2021, NOAA issued the Final Rule for expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This action protects 14 additional reefs and banks, slightly adjusts the boundaries of the sanctuary's original three banks, and expands the sanctuary from 56 square miles to a total of 160 square miles.
The final rule applies existing sanctuary regulations to all of the new areas, providing protection from the destructive impact of activities related to fishing with bottom-tending gear, ship anchoring, oil and gas exploration and production, and salvage activities on sensitive biological resources.
These areas include critical habitat for recreationally and commercially important fish, as well as threatened or endangered species of manta rays, sea turtles, and corals in the Gulf of Mexico.
Seaside Chats 2021
Seaside Chats are informal presentations about ocean topics associated with Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the Gulf of Mexico. These presentations take place on Wednesday evenings in February, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. (Central Time)
February 3, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Mission: Iconic Reefs - An Ambitious Plan to Restore 7 Sites in the Florida Keys
February 10, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Manta Rays: The Mysterious Giants in our Backyard
February 17, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Gulf Coast Reefs: Weathering the Storm
February 24, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Remarkable Algae in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
This year, our Seaside Chats will be completely virtual, using the GoToWebinar platform. We hope you'll join us!
**Professional development hours are available for teachers and Master Naturalists.
2021 Sanctuary Advisory Council Meetings
The Sanctuary Advisory Council meets at least four times a year to discuss topics relevant to sanctuary management. Past minutes and agendas are available on our Meeting Information page.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Register for Webinar :
Webinar ID: 674-698-587
Audio Only: Call (213) 929-4232 and use Audio Access Code: 181-070-966
This virtual meeting is open to the public and will not be recorded. If you wish to speak during the public comment period at 10 a.m. you may submit a request through the webinar’s chat/question box. Alternatively, during the meeting, you can email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and a staff member will read them on your behalf.
Comments submitted through this meeting will be considered part of the administrative record for FGBNMS Advisory Council meetings. Public comments will be limited to three (3) minutes per person.
Remaining 2021 Meetings:
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Webinar information and meeting agendas will be posted closer to each meeting date. All meetings are being held virtually, until further notice.
For more information, contact Leslie.Clift@noaa.gov.
Mooring Buoy Maintenance
Mooring buoys are an important part of our efforts to protect sanctuary resources while still enabling visitor access to the reefs. Vessels up to 100 feet in length can tie off to these surface buoys. Anchoring is not allowed in the sanctuary.
As a result of COVID-19 related restrictions on vessel and diving operations, the sanctuary is unable to conduct maintenance on the mooring buoys. However, we have provided mooring buoys to a local dive company to replace some of the buoys, when they are able.
PLEASE NOTE: Buoys periodically will be lost due to lack of maintenance, or as the result of improper vessel usage or severe storms, so they may not all be there when you are. Please plan your trips accordingly.
Once normal on-water activities are restored, we will resume buoy maintenance as soon as possible.
More Information on Buoy Coordinates
2020 Volunteer of the Year
Meet Fernando Calderón Gutiérrez, our 2020 Volunteer of the Year! Fernando was one of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary's first volunteer divers to attend the inaugural field training course in 2018.
As a volunteer NOAA diver, Fernando has participated in water quality and biological monitoring cruises to maintain instrumentation and collect coral reef data. He has also provided invaluable deck support to ensure the safety of the dive team. He is always keen to learn more, and is willing and enthusiastic to help, often at very short notice.
Virtual Dive Gallery
Can’t get to your national marine sanctuaries? Thanks to the wonders of 360-degree photography, videography, and virtual reality, these underwater treasures are now just a few mouse clicks away.
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) has launched a virtual dive gallery, complete with immersive 360-degree images of eight national marine sanctuaries including the Flower Garden Banks.
In celebration of World Ocean Day 2020, ONMS has now launched virtual reality voyages using 360-degree videos! Whether you live on a coast or in a community far from the shore, we invite you to experience the power and beauty of America’s underwater treasures.
Along with these videos, lesson plans have been developed for educators to further engage middle school students with the virtual dive experience. These lessons take you deeper into each video and align with leading science standards and ocean literacy principles.
Divers! Please Help Prevent the Spread of Coral Disease to FGBNMS
Florida’s coral reefs are currently experiencing a multi-year outbreak of a stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) that has now spread over 200 miles across the Florida reef tract, and possibly to several Caribbean locations.
The disease appears to be caused by bacteria, and may be transmitted to other corals through direct contact and water circulation, meaning that divers and their gear may potentially spread this disease between sites.
As a result, we are asking divers to make sure they properly disinfect their dive gear before visiting Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, in the hopes of preventing this coral disease from reaching our otherwise healthy reefs.
More information and disinfection protocols
Routine Monitoring Sheds Light on Long-Term Conditions
NOAA scientists plunge over the deck of Research Vessel Manta and in pairs descend the clear, blue water of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Floating above the underwater salt domes that rise from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, the divers survey the conditions and perform critical monitoring of the reefs below. This quarterly sampling trip adds valuable information to the decades-old datasets that shape our understanding of this marine oasis.
50 Years of Science, Service, and Stewardship
Throughout 2020, NOAA is celebrating 50 years of science, service, and stewardship. Since its inception on October 3, 1970, NOAA has become one the world’s premier science agencies that protects life and property, leads stewardship of the ocean and Great Lakes, and drives the blue economy — a mission that spans from the surface of the sun to the floor of the ocean. You can find more information about NOAA's 50th anniversary at https://www.noaa.gov/50-years
In 2022, our National Marine Sanctuary System will also be 50. Stay tuned for more on this!
No "Smoking Gun" in 2016 Coral Mortality Event
Although the reefs of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) are normally considered the healthiest in the region, on July 25, 2016, sport divers on the M/V FLING, reported green, hazy water, huge patches of ugly white mats on corals and sponges, and dead animals littering the bottom at East Flower Garden Bank, buoy #4. Sanctuary staff quickly alerted scientists from around the world.
The scientific community mobilized, conducting surveys on the mortality site a week later and the following year. In February 2018, the sanctuary partnered with the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) to bring together 40 researchers from different disciplines to discuss possible causes of the mortality event. A new report summarizes their findings.
Coral Mortality Symposium Summary
HI-A-389-A Platform Partial Removal Completed
HI-A-389-A, a gas production platform located within sanctuary boundaries at East Flower Garden Bank, is no longer visible above the water's surface. Since ceasing production a number of years ago, it was slated for removal. However, based on public opinion, it was decided to leave a portion of the structure in place for fishing and diving.
As of July 25, 2018, the top portion of the structure was removed down to 65 feet below the water's surface. The photo above shows the almost 600-foot long, heavy lift, dynamic positioning vessel NOR GOLIATH lifting the final portion of the upper structure from the water. The lower portion, from 65 to 410 feet, will remain in place as an artificial reef under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Rigs to Reefs program.
The document package below includes background material for this partial removal and the Environmental Assessments pertaining to the development of an artificial reef within the sanctuary. For further information or questions, please contact Emma.Hickerson@noaa.gov
Download Document Package
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Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary has been expanded from 56 square miles to 160 square miles to protect additional critical habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. This map shows the final preferred alternative for expansion as published in the final rule on January 19, 2021.