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Areas in the Gulf of Mexico that are determined to be of particular importance to the long-term productivity of managed species, or to be particularly vulnerable to degradation, can be identified as "habitat areas of particular concern" (HAPC) by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council under the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Amendment 3. This includes several areas of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

Map showing the location of Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) in
the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.
Click on the image for a larger view.

The intent of the HAPC designation is to identify areas that are known to be important to species which are in need of additional levels of protection from adverse impacts. While no additional regulations are created by a HAPC designation, special attention and consideration is given to these areas during the development of management plans.

In order to qualify for a HAPC designation, an area must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat.
  • The extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation.
  • Whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type.
  • The rarity of the habitat type.

Two large groupers swimming above the reef with a school of bright, silvery fish in the background.
Yellowmouth grouper (Mycteroperca interstitialis) often use the habitats at East and West Flower Garden Banks. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council has designated 13 HAPC areas in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico: West Flower Garden Bank, East Flower Garden Bank, Stetson Bank, 29 Fathom Bank, 28 Fathom Bank, MacNeil Bank, Rezak Bank, Sidner Bank, Rankin Bank, Bright Bank, Geyer Bank, McGrail Bank, Bouma Bank, Sonnier Bank, Alderdice Bank, and Jakkula Bank.

The boundaries for these HAPCs were developed using the latest multibeam bathymetry maps of the area, which were verified for biological communities using Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys.

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An additional level of protection is applied to certain HAPCs that harbor coral reefs; a Coral HAPC. While a regular HAPC designation does not provide any additional protections to an area, the designation of a Coral HAPC prohibits fishing with a bottom longline, bottom trawling, buoy gear, pots or traps, and bottom anchoring. However, these regulations only apply to fishing vessels.

Sand channel between sections of coral reef
Sand channel between sections of reef in the sanctuary.

East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank and Stetson Bank are all protected under the policy of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to these protections, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council has identified these areas as Coral HAPCs.

The Council also recognized the importance of McGrail Bank as a unique coral reef ecosystem, granting the bank the protections provided under the Coral HAPC designation (50 CFR Part 622).


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Small, knobby corals in foreground; boulder of brain coral in background.  Long, fingery branches of purple sponge anchored in knobby corals and standing upright.
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