Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

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Present briefly the proposed area and its principal characteristics, and specify the objectives that motivated its creation :

The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary provides natural resource protection to some of the most intact coral reef ecosystems and most healthy coral communities in the Western Atlantic. These reefs are the northern most coral reefs in the continental US. Surrounded by seafloor of 150 m water depths, the reefs grow on salt-dome features that rise to within 16 m of the sea surface at the margin of the continental shelf in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The sanctuary also protects mesophotic reef communities in its deepwater areas. The sanctuary was created by public interest to protect these coral reef communities from expanding oil and gas development, anchoring and fishing impacts in the NW Gulf of Mexico. The coral reefs are popular dive sites. Recreational and commercial fishing is allowed in the sanctuary with some gear restrictions and oil and gas production infrastructure is also present within sanctuary boundaries. As a result, the Flower Garden Banks is an example of how marine resource use and conservation protections can compatibly coexist with the US National Marine Sanctuary System.

Explain why the proposed area should be proposed for inclusion in the SPAW list

The Flower Garden Banks addresses all of the ecological and social/economic criteria for inclusion on the List (described in more detail in Section IV). The Flower Garden Banks are one of a chain of reefs and banks that ring the Gulf of Mexico. These banks are ecologically and physically connected by the currents and species migrations through the Gulf. They form part of a network of key habitats that sustain the diversity and abundance of marine life within the Gulf of Mexico and are linked to the east coast of the US by the Loop and Florida Currents. The Flower Garden Banks are the most important examples of tropical reef communities on the banks of the NW Gulf of Mexico and also protect deepwater hardground benthic communities in the region. The sanctuary protects healthy diverse coral populations and other benthic invertebrates that are key components of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and are essential habitat for many commercial and other fish species. The coral reefs are considered some of the healthiest in the Caribbean region and their protection is important to the condition of the wider Gulf ecosystem. Coral cover has been consistently high (>50%) over 30 years of monitoring. Acropora palmata colonies exist, which are the deepest records of this species. Deepwater habitats include algal nodule reefs, brine seeps and chemosynthetic communities and mud volcanoes. The robust nature of the coral reef populations, including high coral cover and colony sizes, demonstrate the resilient and resistance of the sanctuary ecosystem to disturbances that have disrupted other coral reefs in the Caribbean.

According to you, to which Criteria it conforms (Guidelines and Criteria B Paragraph 2)

Conservation value
Critical habitats

Cultural and socio-economic criterias

Cultural and traditional use
Socio-economic benefits