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.

This follows the publication of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on December 11, 2020, which further clarified the expected impacts of the proposed expansion and responded to public comments received throughout the expansion process.

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.

EXPANSION AREAS

Final Preferred Alternative Expansion Areas
Bank Size
Stetson Bank    1.4 square miles (3.6 sq km)
West Flower Garden Bank  37.2 square miles (96.4 sq km)
Horseshoe Bank  28.7 square miles (74.3 sq km)
East Flower Garden Bank  27.8 square miles (72 sq km)
MacNeil Bank    2.7 square miles (7 sq km)
Rankin/28 Fathom Banks    5.6 square miles (14.5 sq km)
Bright Bank    7.7 square miles (19.9 sq km)
Geyer Bank  11.5 square miles (29.8 sq km)
Elvers Bank    4.6 square miles (11.9 sq km)
McGrail Bank    4.7 square miles (12.2 sq km)
Bouma Bank    7.7 square miles (19.9 sq km)
Sonnier Bank    3.1 square miles (8.0 sq km)
Rezak Bank    3.7 square miles (9.6 sq km)
Sidner Bank    2.0 square miles (5.2 sq km)
Parker Bank    7.0 square miles (18.1 sq km)
Alderdice Bank    5.0 square miles (13 sq km)
TOTAL 160.4 square miles (415.4 sq km)

EXPANSION MAPS

Map showing boundaries for the final preferred alternative for sanctuary expansion
This map shows the boundaries of the final preferred alternative for sanctuary expansion, which includes 17 named banks within 19 separate polygons. Image: NOAA
Map showing boundaries for the final preferred alternative, in the western portion of the expansion area
This map provides a more zoomed in view of the western portion of the final preferred alternative, which includes the existing sanctuary and Horseshoe Bank. Image: NOAA
Map showing boundaries for the final preferred alternative, in the central portion of the expansion area
This map provides a more zoomed in view of the central portion of the final preferred alternative, which includes MacNeil, Rankin, 28 Fathom, Bright, Geyer, and Elvers Banks. Image: NOAA
Map showing boundaries for the final preferred alternative, in the eastern portion of the expansion area
This map provides a more zoomed in view of the eastern portion of the final preferred alternative, which includes, McGrail, Bouma, Sonnier, Rezak, Sidner, Parker, and Alderdice Banks. Image: NOAA

Sanctuary Expansion Process

Expansion was identified as a priority for Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in 2007 and resulted in an initial recommendation from the Sanctuary Advisory Council. This began a process of scientific analysis, consultation, and public input that would continue for 14 years.

checkmark1. SCOPING

NOAA published a Notice of Intent to consider possible expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in February 2015. NOAA asked the public for input on potential boundaries; resources to be protected; issues NOAA should consider; and any information that should be included in the resource analysis.

checkmark2. PROPOSED EXPANSION

In response to public scoping, NOAA released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in June 2016. This document analyzed a range of expansion alternatives, and proposed regulations and boundaries. NOAA asked the public, agency partners, and other stakeholders for input on the DEIS during a 60-day public comment period. NOAA considered all input and determined appropriate changes to address this input.

blue checkmark3. CONSULTATION

The DEIS was presented to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council for consultation on appropriate regulations for the preferred Alternative 3. The consultation resulted in a recommendation from the Gulf Council in November 2016.

blue checkmark4. ADVISORY COUNCIL REVIEW & RECOMMENDATION

The 2018 Sanctuary Advisory Council recommendation resulted from an ongoing effort by the sanctuary to work closely with community and stakeholder groups to protect areas of national significance in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA evaluated the advisory council’s recommendation and revised the preferred alternative.

blue checkmark5. CONSULTATIONS

Pursuant to Presidential Executive Order 13795, NOAA requested an analysis from the Department of Interior regarding energy or mineral resource potential within the proposed areas and potential impact of the proposed expansion on the development of those resources. NOAA also continued to coordinate with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council regarding fishing regulations in the proposed expansion areas. Additional consultations took place with NOAA Fisheries, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the U.S. Coastguard, and the U.S. Navy.

blue checkmark6. PROPOSED RULEMAKING

NOAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in May 2020. NOAA asked the public for input on any aspect of the proposed rule, but also specific input on three items: changes to the proposed boundaries in the revised preferred alternative; a request for an exemption for pelagic longline gear; and a request for a spearfishing exemption.

The public, agency partners, and other stakeholders provided input on the Proposed Rulemaking during a 60-day public comment period. NOAA considered all input and determined appropriate changes to address this input.

NOAA also issued and accepted public comment on a Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) of the proposed expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in November 2020. The RIR was added as a supporting document to the proposed rule for the expansion of the sanctuary.

green arrow pointing to the right7. SANCTUARY EXPANSION

NOAA released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in December 2020 followed by a Final Rule in January 2021.

The expansion becomes effective after 45 days of continuous Congressional session, during which time Congress has the opportunity to review the final proposal.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 14 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.

Through the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, NOAA can identify, designate and protect areas of the marine and Great Lakes environment that have special national significance.

Naiton Marine Sanctuary System map