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Prepared by
Emma L. Hickerson
September 2009

Looking up from the reef to a boat hull floating about 90 feet above. Two divers are silhouetted against the sunlit surface and the booat hull.

Looking up from the reef at Flower Garden Banks
National Marine Sanctuary
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS


The purpose of this document is to report the activities of the Flower Garden Banks (FGBNMS) research team during fiscal year 2009 (FY09). 


The FGBNMS research team was involved in 11 research cruises during the 2009 field season (October 1, 2008-September 30, 2009), at a value of approximately $180K for the shiptime, all of which came directly out of the sanctuary's FY09 budget. 

A pool of 29 sanctuary personnel, scientists, and volunteer divers conducted approximately 485 SCUBA dives during the 2009 field season. Activities included biological surveys and collection, equipment maintenance, and image collection. Six sanctuary permits were processed, and an additional 11 were ongoing. A total of 624 hours of volunteer time was directed towards FGBNMS research activities.

It is important to note that a significant number of research cruises were taken off the schedule due to lack of funding.  For the most part, only monitoring activities and post hurricane cruises were conducted.  Research related to monthly data collection, grouper spawning aggregations, and mesophotic zone investigations succumbed to budgetary constraints.

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  1. Acquisition of the FGBNMS Long-Term Monitoring (LTM) Contract for East and West Flower Garden Banks. For many years this co-funded project has been administered as a contract through Minerals Management Service (MMS).  Due to numerous factors, a proposal was made to MMS to bring the project back to the sanctuary.  An important element in the transfer of this project to FGBNMS is the collaboration between FGBNMS and Texas A&M University Galveston (TAMUG).  The TAMUG Scientific Dive Program, led by Kevin Buch, has provided experienced AAUS scientific divers to assist in data collection during cruises. 
  1. Department of Interior “Partners in Conservation Award.” This award recognized the collaborative efforts between Minerals Management Service and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to monitor the Flower Garden Banks reefs.

Eleven people standing on a stage in front of two flags and a navy blue curtain. People at the center of the stage are holding award plaques.

Sanctuary superintendent G.P. Schmahl receives the
award from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
Photo: Department of the Interior

  1. FGBNMS/NCDDC Marine Spatial Planning Tool.   FGBNMS partnered with the National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC) to develop a GIS-based interactive map website.  This site provides layers of geo-referenced information for FGBNMS as well as the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico (NWGOM).  The long term goal of this program is to provide a portal for research data, images, videos, bathymetry, infrastructure, and regulatory boundaries, to name a few.  The FGBNMS research team will continue to add new information as it becomes available.

    Map users can turn layers on and off, and zoom in to areas of interest.  Features available as of September 2009 include the regional bathymetry, high resolution multibeam for over a dozen reefs and banks in the NWGOM, sanctuary boundaries, biological habitat zonation for FGBNMS, MMS regulatory zones,  Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) in the NWGOM,  MMS Lease blocks, oil and gas infrastructure, shipping fairways, and oceanographic data buoys.  Also available are tracks for over 100 remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys, along with over 1200 images taken in the mesophotic ecosystem zone in the NWGOM.

Learn More About Map

A view of East Flower Garden Bank showing bathymetry,
boundaries and with ROV tracks

  1. Acoustic Tagging Project with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).  Over the past several years, the sanctuary has worked with WCS researcher Dr. Rachel Graham to tag manta rays in the sanctuary and deploy acoustic receivers at East and West Flower Garden Banks, Stetson Bank, Bright Bank, and Sonnier Bank.  Dr. Graham has also been tagging whale sharks and mantas in Mexico and Belize. Sanctuary research assistant Marissa Nuttall traveled to Holbox, Mexico this year, to join Dr. Graham and learn how to tag manta rays with acoustic tags.  This should improve our opportunities to tag additional mantas in the sanctuary.

    Data from receivers in and around the sanctuary have revealed the use of multiple banks by some of the six previously tagged manta rays.  In addition, data from the Bright Bank receiver revealed the movement of a female whale shark tagged in Isla Contoy, Mexico in July 2008, to Bright Bank in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico, in November 2008.  This migration demonstrates a connection between the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef and the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

    A manta ray swimming over a sand patch on the reef. Beyond the manta is a buoy line floating up from the bottom. A small canister is attached to the line about 15 feet above the bottom.

    A manta ray swims past the acoustic receiver, tethered
    to a floated line, in a sand patch at East Flower Garden Bank.
    Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS
  1. Manta Ray Identification Project.  To date, the FGBNMS research team has identified 71 individual manta rays observed in sanctuary waters. These mantas were identified by examining photos showing the unique spot patterns on their ventral (under) sides.

    To aid in future identification, the research team compiled all of this data into a manta catalog, which is available in several different formats. Repeat sightings, locations, and date of sighting information is presented in the catalogs. 

    • Hard copy catalogs, available in binders, have been placed on recreational dive vessels as reference for divers and to encourage them to report their sightings.

    • An online version of the catalog is available on the sanctuary web site. 

    • A poster of the individual mantas is available for download on the sanctuary web site.

    The longevity of sanctuary manta ray sighting data is contributing to knowledge across the field of manta ray research. 

  1. Biogeographic Characterization of Fish Communities and Associated Benthic Habitats within the Flower Garden Banks NMS.  The FGBNMS research team worked with the National Ocean Service (NOS) Biogeography Team to develop and undertake randomly placed benthic and fish surveys throughout the coral caps of the sanctuary. The methodologies used in this project will be drawn upon in the development of future surveys at FGBNMS, including surveys in response to a proposed experimental fishing closure. The report from this project was released in August 2009.

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Click here to see the full 2009 Research Cruise Summary.


Click here to see the full 2009 Research Cruise Summary.


Click here to see the full 2009 Research Cruise Summary.

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  1. Permitting
  2. Scheduling of R/V Manta
  3. Coordination of SCUBA operations
  4. Coordination of shipboard research equipment and activities
  5. Submission of NOAA fleet shiptime requests and needs
  6. Regional GIS support
  7. Science presence at SAC meetings
  8. Maintenance of Reel Report compilation of fishing activities.

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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. Contributions to Sanctuary Web discussions
  5. Web-based research reports and blogs
  6. Presentations:  GISD, Sea Camp, Girl Scouts of Austin, Austin Dive Club, Patton Elementary School
  7. Review of media press releases and articles for submission to magazines.
  8. Development of FGBNMS education curriculum in conjunction with Jacqui Stanley

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  1. December 1-5, 2008.  International Deep Sea Coral Symposium.  Wellington, New Zealand.  Presented poster:  Alcyonarians of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Hickerson.
  2. January 6-8, 2009.  Minerals Management Service Information Transfer Meeting. New Orleans, LA.  Hickerson, Schmahl.
  3. March 4-7, 2009.  Benthic Ecology Meeting.  Corpus Christi, TX. Presenter:  DeBose. Attendee:  Nuttall.
  4. March 23-27, 2009. Unit Diving Supervisor Meeting, Seattle, WA.  Hickerson.
  5. April 20-24, 2009.  Research Coordinators Meeting, Camp Gualala, Sonoma, CA. Hickerson.
  6. May 14, 2009.  Deep Coral Program.  Puerto Rico. Schmahl.
  7. May 27-29, 2009.  ONMS/NMFS Summit. San Franciso, CA. Hickerson, Schmahl.
  8. July 12-19, 2009. Manta Ray tagging training.  Holbox, Mexico.  Nuttall.

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Caldow, C., R. Clark, K. Edwards, S.D. Hile, C. Menza, E. Hickerson, and G.P. Schmahl. 2009. Biogeographic Characterization of Fish Communities and Associated Benthic Habitats within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary:  Sampling Design and Implementation of SCUBA Surveys on the Coral Caps.  NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 81. Silver Spring, MD. 134 pp. 

Deis, D.R.  Post-Hurricane Assessment of Sensitive Habitats of the Flower Garden Banks Vicinity.  2009 MMS-ITM, New Orleans, LA. 

Deslarzes, K., R. Arsonson, W. Precht, M. Robbart, B. Zimmer, L. Duncan, L. Kaufman, G.P. Schmahl, E.L. Hickerson, and J. Sinclair.  Long-Term Monitoring at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, 2004-2008.  2009 MMS-ITM, New Orleans, LA. 

Etnoyer, P. J., and E. Hickerson.  Mesophotic Alcyonacea of Flower Garden Banks, Northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  In Press. Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Precht, W.  K. Deslarzes, E. Hickerson, G.P. Schmahl, J. Sinclair, and R. Aronson. Climate Change and the History of Acropora spp. at the Flower Garden Banks.  2009 MMS-ITM, New Orleans, LA. 

Sammarco, P.  Corals on Platforms Past I, II, and III. 2009 MMS-ITM, New Orleans, LA. 

Wicksten, M. K. Interactions with Fishes of Five Species of Lysmata (Decapoda, Caridea, Lysmatidae). 2009.  Crustaceana 82 (9):1213-1223

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  • Received $15K from CRCP Shallow and Deep Coral Programs to continue mesophotic efforts.
  • Contributed to a successful NRL/NASA proposal entitled  High-Resolution Subsurface Physical and Optical Property Fields in the Gulf of Mexico:  Establishing Baselines and Assessment Tools for Resource Managers.
  • Submitted CRCP proposal with NCCOS and CI for surveys to be conducted in preparation for the proposed experimental fishing closure.
  • Submitted CRCP Deep Sea Coral proposal to identify mesophotic sponges.   Collaboration with Drs. Christi Savarese and Klaus Ruetzler.
  • Submitted a proposal to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council with the objective to confirm the suspected spawning aggregation of marbled grouper, Dermatolepis inermis, at Geyer Bank.

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Flaming reef lobster (Enoplometopus antellensis)
Stetson Bank
Photographed by Michael Bomalick
August 2009 

A bright red lobster hiding under an underwater ledge.  There are white bands on the lobsters claws and legs, white spots on its tail, and a white circle on the side of the head.  The head of a fish is visible in the lower right corner of the photo.

Flaming Reef Lobster (Enoplometopus antellensis). Photo: Michael Bomalick

Flying gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans)
Stetson Bank
G.P. Schmahl
August 2009

A deepwater coral that looks like a giant orange mushroom sits on the silted sea floor. Pale white polyps extend off of the "mushroom cap".

Bathyalycon robustum (formerly Anthomastus robusta) as viewed by the Phantom S2 ROV. Photo: NURC/UNCW

Bathyalycon robustum
Family Alcyoniidae, Lamourous, 1812
DFH13-12A sample
May 12, 2009

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  • Georgia State Aquarium
  • GeoMarine, Inc.
  • Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies
  • Minerals Management Service (MMS)
  • NCCOS – Biogeography
  • National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)
  • NOS Ocean Media Center
  • PBS&J
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • Texas A&M University (TAMU)
  • Texas A&M University – Galveston (TAMUG)
  • Texas A&M University  - Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC)
  • University of Texas
  • Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

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  1. Emma Hickerson, Research Coordinator
  2. G.P. Schmahl, Sanctuary Superintendent
  3. John Embesi, Research Specialist (started 6/29/09)
  4. Jennifer DeBose, Research Specialist (ended 7/31/09)
  5. Marissa Nuttall, Research Assistant
  6. Ryan Eckert, Research Intern (started 6/1/09)
  7. Tracy Hamburger, Marine Operations Officer 

Divers and research volunteers:

  • Mauritius Bell, Georgia Aquarium
  • Joe Bosquez, TAMUG-AAUS
  • John Brooks, NOS Ocean Media
  • Kevin Buch, TAMUG-AAUS
  • David Clayton, TAMUG-AAUS
  • Sam Davenport, TAMUG-AAUS
  • Sarah Davies, UT
  • Jennifer DeBose, FGBNMS
  • Ryan Eckert, FGBNMS
  • John Embesi, FGBNMS
  • Scott Fowler, UNCW
  • Tyler Frizell, TAMUG-AAUS
  • Russ Green, TBNMS
  • Tracy Hamburger, FGBNMS
  • Emma Hickerson, FGBNMS
  • Paul Hillman, NOS Ocean Media
  • Amie Hufton, TAMUG-AAUS
  • Doug Kesling, UNCW
  • Jeremy Marshall, PBS&J-AAUS
  • Greg McFall, GRNMS
  • Eric McHugh, TAMUG-AAUS
  • Eli Meyer, UT
  • Marissa Nuttall, FGBNMS
  • Jeff Reid, Georgia Aquarium
  • Ashley Salmeron, TAMUG-AAUS
  • G.P. Schmahl, FGBNMS
  • James Sinclair, MMS
  • Laura White, TAMUG-AAUS
  • Kate Winters, MMS

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Download a copy of the full 2009 Research Report (1MB pdf)

Access other sanctuary Research Reports.

If you have any questions about the sanctuary's 2009 research activities or the 2009 Research Report, please contact Emma Hickerson.

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