NORTHWESTERN GULF OF MEXICO
Exploration and mapping activities in and around the sanctuary have led to an updated habitat classification scheme for the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. The original scheme was proposed by early explorers and marine biologists, Tom Bright, Richard Rezak and David McGrail, to name a few.
Biological Zone: Coral Reef
Major Habitats: coral reef community, Montastraea, Orbicella, Madracis, Stephanocoenia, carbonate sand (reef-derived sediments)
Biology: Montastraea, Orbicella, Stephanocoenia, Madracis, Agaricia, sponge, mixed coral, leafy algae, hardbottom community, sand community
Geomorphological Descriptors: coral reef, patch reef, carbonate sand
Madracis auretenra (formerly mirabilis)
The coral reef zone is the shallowest zone, occurring at depths of approximately 18-45 m (59-148 ft). This zone is characterized by a high cover of coral assemblages dominated by Montastraea and Orbicella species, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Porites astraeoides, Colpophyllia natans and Stephanocoenia intersepta. Coralline algae, filamentous and leafy algae also occur on reef substrates, but are not dominant members of the benthic assemblage. Madracis auretenra (formerly mirabilis) forms large monotypic stands in deeper portions of the coral reef community. Sponges and Agaricia species are common in crevices and cavities of the reef. Sand patches and channels are prevalent throughout the reef.
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Biological Zone: Coral Community
Major Habitats: coral community, Millepora-sponge, sponge, leafy algae/sponge, low density coral
A coral community with a concentration of Madracis decactis on top of one of the
pinnacles at Stetson Bank.
Biology: Millepora-sponge, sponge, leafy algae/sponge, low density coral, mixed coral, leafy algae, sand community, hardbottom community
Geomorphological Descriptors: patch reef, hardbottom
A coral community dominated by algae and sponges.
The coral community (formerly known as the low-diversity coral reef) is characterized by the blushing star coral (Stephanocoenia intersepta), the large star coral (Montastraea cavernosa), fire coral (Millepora alcicornis), and the large grooved brain coral (Colpophyllia natans), and occurs between depths of 40-55 m (131-180 ft). The lettuce corals (Agaricia species) and brain coral (Pseudodiploria strigosa) are also an important part of the community. Crustose coralline algae are the dominant encrusting form on dead coral rock, along with leafy algae and numerous sponges. The dominance of hard corals declines with depth, and few coral colonies occur between 45-50 m (147-180 ft).
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Biological Zone: Coralline Algae
Major Habitats: algal nodules
Biology: sand community, Madracis, leafy algae/sponge, octocoral, antipatharian, mixed coral, sponge, algal pavement, leafy algae, rhodolith assemblage, tilefish mound
Geomorphological Descriptors: algal nodules, honeycomb reef, patch reef, molluscan reef, hardbottom, pavement
Major Habitats: coralline algal reefs
Biology: sand community, leafy algae/sponge, octocoral, antipatharian, octocoral/antipatharian, mixed coral, algal pavements, sponge
Geomorphological Descriptors: algal nodules, honeycomb reef, patch reef, hardbottom, hardbottom reef, pavement, molluscan reef
Coralline algal reef
The coralline algae community at the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary (formerly known as the algal/sponge zone) is dominated by crustose coralline algae, forming individual algal nodules or rhodoliths, or forming large plates and ridges that develop into massive reef structures. A variety of sponge species are abundant in this zone, along with numerous antipatharians and octocorals. Few reef-building corals occur at these depths, and are mostly limited to small isolated colonies. A variety of leafy algae fields are also present.
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Biological Zone: Deep Coral
Major Habitats: deep reef
Biology: octocoral, antipatharian, stony corals, sponge/coral, mixed coral, sponge
Deep coral zone
Geomorphological Descriptors: patch reef, highly eroded patch reef, hardbottom, rubble, molluscan reef, hardbottom reef
Red crinoid among gorgonians in deep coral habitat.
The deep coral community (formerly known as the drowned reef zone) occurs below water depths that support active photosynthesis. The deep coral community is characterized by a diverse assemblage of antipatharian and gorgonian corals, crinoids, bryozoans, sponges, azooxanthellate branching corals, and small, solitary hard corals. Rock surfaces are often highly eroded and lack coralline algal growth. Reef outcrops may be covered with a thin layer of silt.
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Biological Zone: Soft Bottom Community
Major Habitats: soft bottom community
A sea biscuit shell partially covers an anemone living
in a soft bottom community.
Biology: bacterial mats, antipatharian fields, stony corals, octocorals
Geomorphological Descriptors: silt, fine sediments, coarse sediments, carbonate rubble, patch reef, hardbottom, burrows, patterned burrows, mound, pit
Squat lobster burrow in soft bottom sediments at McGrail Bank.
Deeper areas of the sanctuary are characterized by a soft, level bottom community composed of both terrigenous sediments originating from coastal rivers and carbonate sediments resulting from erosion of rocky outcrops and coral reef communities. Few conspicuous fishes and invertebrates occur on soft bottom communities when compared to coral reef or rocky zones. Soft bottom communities are often characterized by sand waves, burrows and mounds. Transitional zones between soft bottom communities and hard bottom features are characterized by exposed rubble, isolated patch reefs or exposed hardbottom. Areas with buried or exposed rubble are often colonized by antipatharians, octocorals or solitary hard corals.
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In 2009, the sanctuary research team partnered with the National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC) to make this information available in the form of a GIS-based mapping tool. You can explore actual ROV tracks and look at images along those tracks.
Example of a habitat photo linked to an ROV track on
our interactive map tool.
To access the map, just click on the button below.
The map is a work in progress, so check back regularly!
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