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Research Publications/Chronology


Prepared by
Emma L. Hickerson
January 2009


The purpose of this document is to report the activities of the Flower Garden Banks (FGBNMS) Research Team during 2008.  The team included Emma L. Hickerson (Research Coordinator), Jennifer DeBose (Research Specialist), and Marissa Nuttall (Research Assistant).


The FGBNMS research team was involved in eight research cruises during the 2008 field season, at a value of approximately $93,500 for the shiptime, $49,000 of which came directly out of the sanctuary's Fiscal Year 2008 budget. Unfortunately eight days of Nancy Foster shiptime was lost due to generator failure.

A pool of 32 sanctuary personnel, scientists, and volunteer divers conducted approximately 340 SCUBA dives during the 2008 field season. Activities included biological surveys and collection, equipment maintenance, u-bolt installation, and image collection. Ten sanctuary permits were processed, and an additional 13 were ongoing.

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($ amount represents approximate shiptime value)

M/V SPREE ($10,000)
February 2-3, 2008

The Flower Garden Banks NMS supported a cruise to change out the YSI water quality instruments and install new Seabird temperature/salinity instruments.  Sanctuary staff worked with the long term monitoring contractor, PBS&J, to accomplish the tasks. 

Staff noted the presence of a plague-like coral disease that was affecting multiple colonies, and multiple species.  This is the fourth year that this unusual winter-time disease event has been document at the FGBNMS.  A 6’ goliath grouper was encountered on the reef cap – a rare sighting.  Spinner sharks were jumping at Stetson Bank.  Water temperature was approximately 68F at all three banks.

February 9-10, 2008

On Friday, February 15th, 2008, Flower Garden Banks NMS staff responded to a call reporting that the TABS Buoy V, had broken loose from its mooring, and had become entangled in the coral cap at the East Flower Garden Bank (EFGB).  FGBNMS worked with Texas A&M University/GERG to obtain secure a response vessel, the Brookes McCall, and FGBNMS provided NOAA working divers to conduct in water operations. 

The chain and cable attached to the buoy were entangled in the reef in over 100 ft of water.  The FGBNMS team (G.P. Schmahl, Jennifer DeBose, and Tracy Hamburger) unshackled the buoy from the chain at depth, and laid the chain on the substrate for future recovery.  The buoy was recovered by the vessel before returning to shore ahead of heavy seas.

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R/V MANTA ($2,500)
March 19-20, 2008
Elliott Bay, Seattle, WA

The new Flower Garden Banks NMS research catamaran, the R/V MANTA, was accepted by the program on Thursday, March 13th, 2008, from the builders, All American Marine, Inc., in Bellingham, WA. 

The vessel was brought down to Seattle for sea trial operations during the week of March 17th, 2008.  Sanctuary Program Director Dan Basta and FGBNMS Superintendent G.P. Schmahl conducted inaugural water entries donning drysuits and snorkels off the R/V MANTA at the pier at Sand Point - Dan, of course, being the first off! 

The FGBNMS collaborated with Mike Overfield (ONMS - RUST Program), Mitchell Tartt (ONMS - HQ), Bob Pavia (ONMS - Seattle), and Dana Wilkes (ONMS - Small Boat Program) to conduct sidescan and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys of two RUST target sites in the vicinity of Elliott Bay, Seattle.   The primary objective of the mission was to test the capabilities of the R/V MANTA, and run the vessel systems.  The RUST (Resource and UnderSea Threats) targets, Four Mile Rock Barges, and the AJ Fuller (a schooner that had been converted to a gravel barge) were both successfully mapped and video image collected.  Technicians from Teledyne Benthos (Darren Moss), and Seafloor Systems (John and Tim Tamplin) loaned the mission their expertise and equipment to run the survey operations. 

The Assistant Archaeologist for the State of Washing, Scott Williams, was on hand to observe the operations, along with Olympic Coast NMS representatives, Bob Steelquist and George Galasso, and Seattle Aquarium representatives.  Other participants included Ruth Yender from NOS/ORR and Mark Miller from the NOAA Small Boat Program.   The R/V MANTA was also on site during the ONMS Small Boat Summit in Seattle in April. 

The vessel then returned to All American Marine, Inc., for final adjustments, before heading to Nanaimo, BC, Canada, in preparation for loading on a Dockwise transport ship for delivery to Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Click here to view images from the Shakedown Cruise.

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M/V FLING ($13,500)
April 28-30, 2008

The Flower Garden Banks Spring Research cruise was shortened due to inclement weather.  Dives were conducted at all three banks.  Participants from Texas A&M University (College Station, Galveston, and Corpus Christi) and University of Calgary joined the FGBNMS research team.  Coral recruitment tiles were photographed, maintenance was performed on the recruitment rack, sponge and coral samples were collected for bleaching studies, and general reef observations were made. 

Water temperature ranged from 69F (Stetson) to 73F (Flower Garden Banks). In general, visibility was low - around 30ft at Stetson Bank and 50ft at the Flower Garden Banks.  Seas were 2-4ft on the first day of the cruise, and deteriorated to 5-7ft on the second day, prompting an early departure.

M/V FLING ($13,500)
June 16-18, 2008

Click here to see a detailed 2008 Stetson Monitoring Cruise summary with photographs.

M/V FLING ($13,500)
July 2-4, 2008

Click here to see a detailed ICRS Field Trip summary with photographs.

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M/V SPREE ($15,000)
July 28-30, 2008

Click here to see a detailed Mooring Drilling Cruise summary with photographs.

R/V MANTA ($12,000)
August 21-24, 2008

Click here to see a detailed Coral Spawning Cruise summary with photographs.

M/V EAGLE RAY ($3,500)
October 10, 2008

Click here to see a detailed Post Ike Reef Assessment summary with photographs.

M/V SPREE ($20,000)
November 3-5, 2008

G.P. Schmahl and Emma Hickerson participated in the Long Term Monitoring Cruise to the Flower Garden Banks NMS.  Long term photographic data was collected by contractors, PBS&J, at the coral caps of East and West Flower Garden Banks. The Seabird water quality instruments were downloaded and redeployed at all three banks, including Stetson Bank.  Sea conditions were highly variable, with visibility ranging from 35-150ft at East Flower Garden Bank, around 30ft at West Flower Garden Bank, and around 20ft at Stetson Bank.   Water temperature ranged from 74F-77F.  Seas were calm for the first two days of the cruise, deteriorating to 4-7' seas for the last two days. This was the first visit to Stetson Bank since the passage of Hurricane Ike. Significant impacts were observed and photographed. 

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M/V MANTA ($5,000)
November 20, 2008

A second cruise was conducted to continue the assessment of impacts due to Hurricane Ike at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.  Steve Gittings, Emma Hickerson, Jenn DeBose, Tracy Hamburger, and Marissa Nuttall joined the crew of the R/V MANTA and made a comfortable 5-hour run out on the afternoon of November 19th.  Dives were conducted on November 20th at  East and West Flower Garden Bank.  Visibility was around 60’ and water temperature was 75F.  Seas were flat, and no current was encountered. 

Transects documenting damage were conducted from buoys at both banks.  A survey was conducted on the north side of West Flower Garden Bank to determine the condition of the Madracis fields. The fields appear to be intact, with very little damage sustained, unlike the flattened fields at East Flower Garden Bank.  The newly installed u-bolt at East Flower Garden Bank buoy #2 is now, unfortunately, on the bottom side of a very large upturned coral colony. 

Other sightings of note were a loggerhead sea turtle on the surface at WFGB, and a spotted eagle ray at East Flower Garden Bank.  A rotary camera was retrieved for TAMU-CC researchers, Ian MacDonald and Doug Weaver, from East Flower Garden Bank.  

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Winter Research Cruise – March 4-6, 2008.  Postponed due to weather. 

Winter Research Cruise – March 25-27, 2008.  Cancelled due to weather.

Spring Research Cruise – April 28-30, 2008.  Shortened by 3 days due to inclement weather.

FGBNMS Long Term Monitoring Cruise – June 9-13, 2008.  Postponed due to weather.

Geyer Bank Marbled Grouper Cruise – August 28-September 2, 2008.  Cancelled due to engine failure on R/V MANTA.

Nancy Foster Cruise – August 25-September 2, 2008.  Cancelled due to generator repairs, then Hurricane Gustav.

FGBNMS Long-Term Monitoring – September 8-12, 2008.  Postponed due to Hurricane Ike.

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  1. January 25, 2008.  Gulf of Mexico Initiative.  Reefs and Banks of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Sarasota, FL.  Hickerson and Schmahl.
  2. February 29, 2008.  FGBNMS overview and management review process.  Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. Hickerson
  3. April 1-3, 2008.  Marine Debris Forum, Washington, DC.  DeBose.
  4. April 15-17, 2008.  Small Boat Summit.  Seattle, WA. Hickerson and Hamburger.
  5. April 23-24, 2008.  Research Closure Workshop.  Galveston, TX.  DeBose, Schmahl, Hickerson.
  6. May 28, 2008.  First Aid/CPR/O2/AED Training. Galveston, TX.  Hickerson, Schmahl, Kiene.
  7. July 7-11, 2008.  International Coral Reef Symposium. Fort Lauderdale, FL.  Schmahl, Hickerson, DeBose, Kiene.

G.P. Schmahl, Emma Hickerson and Jennifer DeBose attended the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Ft. Lauderdale, where they presented two posters: Species catalogs for deepwater coral communities of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico (Hickerson and Schmahl) and Change and resilience at Stetson Bank, a high latitude coral community in the Gulf of Mexico (Schmahl, DeBose, Nutall and Hickerson); and two presentations: Holocene reef development at the Flower Garden Banks: recent surprises (Precht, Deslarzes, Hickerson, Schmahl, Sinclair and Aronson) and A new role for dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) as a foraging cue for coral reef fishes (DeBose, Lema, Nevitt). Several  posters/presentations also presented data collected at the Flower Garden Banks: Post-Hurricane Rita assessment of four sensitive banks in the vicinity of the Flower Garden Banks, Gulf of Mexico (Deis, Zimmer and Duncan), Herbivore effects on coral and algal population dynamics (Davies and Vize), and Light sensing and the coordination of coral broadcast spawning behavior (Hilton and Vize). Over 2500 coral reef scientists and managers attended the 5-day symposium.  Sanctuary staff were able to make important contacts, provide information about the health of the Flower Garden Banks, and update their scientific knowledge base for the continuing research and monitoring efforts at the Flower Garden Banks NMS.

  1. July 12-14, 2008.  Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems Workshop, Jupiter, FL.  Schmahl.

 G.P. Schmahl participated in the "Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems" workshop, following the ICRS.  Mesophotic coral ecosystems are those coral communities that occur in the "twilight zone" of the reef, between 30 and 150 meters in depth.  The workshop was organized by the NOAA office of Sponsored Coastal and Ocean Research, with the purpose of developing a research plan for these under-studied areas.  G.P. served as co-chair of the Management team for this meeting.  

  1. December 1-5, 2008 (FY09).  International Deep Sea Coral Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand. Hickerson  

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Davies, S. and P. Vize.  Herbivore effects on coral and algal population dynamics.  Abstracts 11th Int’l Coral Reef Symposium, Ft. Lauderdale, FL. 

DeBose, J.L., G.P. Schmahl, M.F. Nuttall and E. Hickerson, in press.  Coral Bleaching Mortality and Resilience at Stetson Bank, a High Latitude Coral Community in the Gulf of Mexico. Proceedings of the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium. Florida, July 7-11, 2008. 

Etnoyer, P. and E. Hickerson.  Deep-water Alyconacea of  Flower Garden Banks,  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  Abstract. International Deepsea Coral Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Foley, Kim A. et al. 2007.  First Confirmed Record of Nassau Grouper Epinephelus striatus (Pisces: Serranidae) in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.  Gulf of Mexico Science, 2007 (32), pp. 162-165. 

Hickerson E.L. and G.P. Schmahl 2008.  Gulf of Mexico Initiative, Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. In, Ritchie, K.B. and Brian D. Keller, eds. 2008.  A Scientific Forum on the Gulf of Mexico:  The Islands in the Stream Concept.  Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series NMSP-08-04.  U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Silver Spring, MD. 105 pp. 

Hickerson, E.L, G.P. Schmahl, M. Robbart, W.F. Precht, and C. Caldow, 2008.  State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Flower Garden Banks, Stetson Bank, and Other Banks in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  In. The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States:  2008.  In, Waddell, J.E. and A.M. Clarke (eds.), 2008.   NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 73.  NOAA/NCCOS Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment’s Biogeography Team. Silver Spring, Maryland. 569 pp.

Hickerson, E.L. and G.P. Schmahl.  Species catalogs for deepwater coral communities of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  Abstracts 11th Int’l Coral Reef Symposium Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  

Office of the National Marine Sanctuaries. 2008.  Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report 2008.  U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD. 29 pp.

Parsons-Hubbard, Karla M. et al. 2008. The taphonomic signature of a brine seep and the potential for Burgess Shale style preservation.  Journal of Shellfish Research, Vol. 27, No. 1, 227-239, 2008

Precht, W.F., R.B. Aronson, K.J.P. Deslarzes, L.S. Kaufman, M.L. Robbart, E.L. Hickerson, G.P. Schmahl and J. Sinclair. Long-Term Reef Monitoring at the Flower Garden Banks:  Status, Stasis and Change.  In, Ritchie, K.B. and Brian D. Keller, eds. 2008.  A Scientific Forum on the Gulf of Mexico:  The Islands in the Stream Concept.  Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series NMSP-08-04.  U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Silver Spring, MD. 105 pp.

Precht, W.F., K.J.P. Deslarzes, E. Hickerson, G.P. Schmahl, J. Sinclair, and R.B. Aronson. Holocene reef development at the Flower Garden Banks: recent surprises. Abstracts 11th Int’l Coral Reef Symposium Ft. Lauderdale, FL, p.5

Robbart, M.L., R.B. Aronson, L. Duncan, and B. Zimmer, in press. Post-hurricane assessment of sensitive habitats of the Flower Garden Banks Vicinity. U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, New Orleans, Louisiana.  OCS Study MMS.

Robbart, M., Aronson, R., Precht, W. and Deslarzes, K. Impact of Hurricane Rita on four shallow banks in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  Abstracts 11th Int’l Coral Reef Symposium Ft. Lauderdale, FL. p.41 

Schmahl, G.P., E.L. Hickerson and W.F. Precht, 2008. Biology and Ecology of Coral Reefs and Coral Communities in the Flower Garden Banks Region, Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. In, B.M. Riegl and R.E. Dodge, Coral Reefs of the USA, Springer Science, 2008. 

Slowey, N.C., T. Holcombe, M.P. Betts, and W.R. Bryant.  Habitat Islands along the Shelf Edge of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  In, Ritchie, K.B. and Brian D. Keller, eds. 2008.  A Scientific Forum on the Gulf of Mexico:  The Islands in the Stream Concept.  Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series NMSP-08-04.  U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Silver Spring, MD. 105 pp.

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Rock shrimp (Sicyonia sp.) – Frank and Joyce Burek

Greater soapfish (Rypticus saponaceus)– Marissa Nuttall, Stetson Bank 


  • 2007 Research Report
  • Manta Ray Identification poster and catalog
  • R/V MANTA poster
  • 2007 Research Activities Poster 


  • Submitted shiptime requests and needs
  • Submitted monthly charter reports to NMAO.
  • Provided support and supervision for development of Stetson Bank Long-Term Monitoring Database (Marissa Nuttall)
  • Ancient Acropora Reef research
  • Regional GIS support  


  • Azure Photographic Services
  • Bainbridge College
  • FDA
  • GeoMarine, Inc.
  • George Mason University
  • Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies
  • Minerals Management Service (MMS)
  • NCCOS – Biogeography
  • NOAA Fisheries
  • PBS&J
  • Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF)
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • Texas A&M University (TAMU)
  • Texas A&M University – Galveston (TAMUG)
  • Texas A&M University  - Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC)
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD)
  • University of Calgary
  • University of Texas
  • University of Texas at Arlington
  • Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

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  1. Maintenance of digital slide catalog/library
  2. Maintenance of video library (annotations)
  3. Development of PowerPoint presentations for various events
  4. Sanctuary Web discussion and contributions
  5. Web-based research reports
  6. Ocean Discovery Day preparation and participation
  7. Implementation of Reusable Bag Program
  8. Purchase of camera equipment for education team


  • Review and writing of permits for science activities
  • Responded to oil and gas industry spill drills in Manager’s absence
  • Attended Sanctuary Advisory Committee meetings
  • Acting Timekeeper duties

Download a copy of this report (444kb pdf)

Access other sanctuary Research Reports.

If you have any questions about the sanctuary's 2008 research activities or the 2008 Research Report, please contact Emma Hickerson.

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weather report observations cool stuff get wet

Orange, branching gorgonian (soft coral) anchored in a bed of sponges and other sea life.
National Marine Sanctuary logo - a stylized whale tail above waves