National conservation groups and aquarium partners celebrated the expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, announced Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The expansion increases protections within the Gulf of Mexico’s only national marine sanctuary from 56 square miles to 160 square miles and includes 14 critical reefs and banks.
Many people in the Chattanooga area may not know the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary by name, but they have seen a living model of it. The Tennessee Aquarium’s Secret Reef exhibit replicates the protected habitat that is located in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Tennessee Aquarium’s Secret Reef live web cam gives people an opportunity to imagine what it would be like to be in this very special ecosystem: https://tnaqua.org/live/secret-reef/.
Moving forward, this expansion means increased protections for important species and habitats. The expansion areas will be home to future conservation work and support resource protection, science and research, recreation and stewardship for local communities and the country. In particular, the sanctuary’s expansion provides an excellent opportunity to:
further explore the wonders of the ocean;
study healthy reefs, especially as potential sites to seed and restore future reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean;
better understand resilient ecosystems in the face of changing climate and pollution; and
connect families and children with our ocean and build stewards through conservation expeditions, conservation programs, and exhibits and outreach.
Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, “Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary’s expansion is great news for marine conservation in the Gulf. The sanctuary protects incredible coral reefs and an amazing diversity of species. It connects communities to the ocean through educational opportunities including Ocean Guardian Schools and Aquarium-Sanctuary Partnerships. The Foundation supports conservation work in the sanctuary and we look forward to expanding our work in the newly designated areas. We appreciate NOAA and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for their efforts in making this expansion happen.”
“Moody Gardens is very pleased with the expansion of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary,” said Greg Whittaker, Animal Husbandry manager for Moody Gardens. “Through our Aquarium-Sanctuary Partnership for America’s Keystone Wildlife, we work to align our conservation-education messaging and field conservation efforts to broaden the impact of the great work being done by the FGBNMS team. The expansion of the Sanctuary’s protection over these additional 14 banks and the diverse biological systems they support is exciting and we anticipate years of collaborative Aquarium-Sanctuary projects associated with these natural resource gems. Moody Gardens’ dive operations will continue to serve as a resource to our FGBNMS partners as we explore the new undersea habitats and protect the ecosystem. We look forward to showcasing the discoveries in our backyard Sanctuary to our millions of visitors here in Galveston.”
“The advanced growth of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is a triumph for coral conservation," said Texas State Aquarium Senior Vice President and COO Jesse Gilbert. "The Aquarium-Sanctuary Partnership provides us the opportunity to continue in the rescue and aid in the protection of Florida’s coral. Our aquarists will continue their work to preserve the genetic diversity of the reef to help further restoration efforts. In support of our mission, we will continue to educate and inspire the appreciation for our seas and support conservation.”
“This expansion represents another milestone in protecting crucial habitat and a vital part of our planet’s life support system,” said Keith Sanford, president and CEO of the Tennessee Aquarium. “By partnering with the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, we’ve been able to help millions of inland residents understand their role in protecting the health of the Gulf of Mexico by working to safeguard the rivers and streams running through our communities.”
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary lies 100 miles off the Texas and Louisiana coasts and is the only sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. Home to an ecosystem created by water from 31 states and Canada, the existing sanctuary protects some of the healthiest and most resilient coral reef communities in the entire Caribbean and western Atlantic region including salt domes, or underwater mountains, on which the reef-building corals live.
Its deep water habitat includes salt domes, which are underwater mountains, and the reef-building corals that live on top of those formations. Those who visit for sportfishing and diving can see coral heads bigger than cars and a bounty of wildlife including whale sharks, sea turtles, mollusks, crustaceans, birds, manta rays, and hundreds of species of fish. Below the coral cap in deeper water are additional species including octocorals and black corals.
While Flower Garden Banks offers recreation, its offshore location makes it a major center for research and conservation activities.
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, beyond its natural wonders, connects communities, including aquarium partners, with the ocean for innovative science and exploration work, community stewardship, and educational opportunities, including five Ocean Guardian Schools in Texas.
Four aquariums formally partner with Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Aquarium-Sanctuary Partnerships for America’s Keystone Wildlife Project supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas; Moody Gardens, Inc.; Texas State Aquarium; and Tennessee Aquarium. Priority interventions include fish and coral recovery, invasive species and marine debris removal, sea turtle rehabilitation, and mooring buoys that deter boats from anchoring on reefs.