Coral Reef Monitoring Services

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The coral reefs of the Flower Garden Banks (FGB) are the most sensitive biological habitats in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1973, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), formerly the Bureau of Land Management, has conducted a program of protective activities at these reefs.

This program includes implementation of the topographic features stipulation (no activity zone, four-mile shunting zone), and a long-term coral reef monitoring program in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA’s) National Marine Sanctuary Program. MMS mandates require monitoring of coral populations to detect incipient changes that may be caused by oil and gas activities.

The FGB monitoring program has been continuously funded since 1988 by MMS and NOAA. Two sites, each 100 m by 100 m and 1,825 m deep, have been monitored over that period: one on the East FGB and the other on the West FGB. No significant long-term changes have been detected in coral reef populations, total coral cover, or coral species diversity at the FGB since quantitative surveys of the reefs began in 1988. Percent coral cover on these reefs is among the highest measured in the entire region. These reefs are therefore potentially excellent models for understanding future patterns on reefs throughout the region and their causes.

The five-year monitoring (water quality, fisheries, and coral-density analyses) of these two coral reef sites, located about 105 miles directly south of the Texas/Louisiana border in the Gulf of Mexico, continued through 2009 under this contract, and services are ongoing for final report preparation and approval. Throughout the contract, the members of the project team produced a number of peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, technical papers, and presentations.

To recognize the achievement of conservation excellence through collaboration, the Atkins project team along with team members from NOAA and MMS, received the prestigious Cooperative Conservation Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior.