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 effective date of this action is March 22, 2021.
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.
Scroll down this page to see a story map that will allow you to explore the sanctuary and its surroundings in more detail.
Sanctuary Expansion Information
Seaside Chats 2021
Seaside Chats is an annual speaker series about ocean topics associated with Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the Gulf of Mexico. Although the live webinars have passed, we now have recordings of these programs available on the web.
Mission: Iconic Reefs - An Ambitious Plan to Restore 7 Sites in the Florida Keys
Manta Rays: The Mysterious Giants in our Backyard
Remarkable Algae in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
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
2021 Sanctuary Advisory Council Meetings
The Sanctuary Advisory Council meets several times a year to discuss topics relevant to sanctuary management. Past minutes and agendas are available on our Meeting Information page.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Remaining 2021 Meetings:
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.
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
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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, effective March 22, 2021. This means that the sanctuary is now made up of 17 different reefs and banks within 19 separate boundaries. You can explore the entire sanctuary and it's surroundings within the story map below.
Learn more about the sanctuary expansion