Summary and Findings
This "condition report" provides a summary of marine resources in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, pressures on those resources, current condition and trends, and management responses to the pressures that threaten the integrity of the marine environment. Specifically, the document includes information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources and maritime archaeological resources and the human activities that affect them. It presents responses to a set of questions posed to all sanctuaries. More...
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Condition Summary Table
The following table summarizes the "State of Sanctuary Resources" section of this report. The first two columns list 17 questions used to rate the condition and trends for qualities of water, habitat, living resources, and maritime archaeological resources. The "Rating" column consists of a color, indicating resource condition, and a symbol, indicating trend (see key for definitions). The "Basis for Judgment" column provides a short statement or list of criteria used to justify the rating. The "Description of Findings" column presents the statement that best characterizes resource status, and corresponds to the assigned color rating. The "Description of Findings" statements are customized for all possible ratings for each question..
Status: Good Good/Fair Fair Fair/Poor Poor Undet.
▲ Conditions appear to be improving.
- Conditions do not appear to be changing.
▼ Conditions appear to be declining.
? Undeterminted trend.
N/A Question not applicable.
Basis For Judgement
Are specific or multiple stressors, including changing oceanographic and atmospheric conditions, affecting water quality and how are they changing?
Isolated contaminants; freshwater influxes from terrestrial sources; increased water temperature.
Selected conditions may preclude full development of living resource assemblages and habitats, but are not likely to cause substantial or persistent declines.
Existing stipulations and operating standards for oil and gas development have worked well in preventing impacts to the coral reef.
Sanctuary conducts drills with MMS, training and information sharing with operators, and contingency planning with regional response authorities. Sanctuary is considering ways to limit pollutants from currently approved marine sanitation devices.
What is the eutrophic condition of sanctuary waters and how is it changing?
No evidence based on ongoing monitoring since the late 1980s.
Conditions do not appear to have the potential to negatively affect living resources or habitat quality.
Do sanctuary waters pose risks to human health and how are they changing?
Recent outbreaks of ciguatera traced to fish from the Flower Gardens; large proportion of fish tested for mercury exceeded levels for safe consumption.
Selected conditions have caused or are likely to cause severe impacts, but cases to date have not suggested a pervasive problem.
What are the levels of human activities that may influence water quality and how are they changing?
Vessel discharges, oil and gas platform and pipeline discharges.
Some potentially harmful activities exist, but they do not appear to have had a negative effect on water quality.
What are the abundance and distribution of major habitat types and how are they changing?
Major habitat types appear to be stable, although additional monitoring in deeper communities is warranted.
Habitats are in pristine or near-pristine condition and are unlikely to preclude full community development.
Recent emphasis on high-resolution mapping and characterization of habitats within and adjacent to the three sanctuary units, as well as on other banks of the northwest Gulf of Mexico.
IMO designation of the Flower Gardens as a "No Anchor" area should reduce risk of anchoring by foreign-flagged vessels. Trained naturalists on board dive charters conduct education about sanctuary resources in order to reduce impacts and enrich visitor experience.
What is the condition of biologically structured habitats and how is it changing?
Damage by anchoring; lost or discarded fishing gear and cables, mostly in deep habitats; destabilization by fishing gear and/or anchors at Stetson Bank.
Selected habitat loss or alteration has taken place, precluding full development of living resources, but it is unlikely to cause substantial or persistent degradation in living resources or water quality.
What are the contaminant concentrations in sanctuary habitats and how are they changing?
Limited investigations suggest low levels of contaminants. Contaminants do not appear to have the potential to negatively affect living resources or water quality.
What are the levels of human activities that may influence habitat quality and how are they changing?
Limited number of dive charters, some fishing gear impacts, some illegal fishing.
Some potentially harmful activities exist, but they do not appear to have had a negative effect on habitat quality.
9. What is the status of biodiversity and how is it changing?
Long-term monitoring of coral reef communities and other information collected since the 1970s
Biodiversity appears to reflect pristine or near-pristine conditions and promotes ecosystem integrity (full community development and function).
Monitoring program is adequate for the most part for the coral reef, but may need enhancements to deal with emerging threats (e.g., impacts of offshore aquaculture, acidification and other effects of climate change). There is a need to expand the monitoring effort into the deep water habitats below the coral reef zone.
Current focus is on coral disease and bleaching frequency and impacts, and removal of non-indigenous species when they are encountered. Recent designation of sanctuary areas as essential fish habitat, combined with outreach and education efforts, increase protection options and awareness of resource threats. Enforcement capability will be enhanced with the addition of a sanctuary vessel in 2008.
What is the status of environmentally sustainable fishing and how is it changing?
Unpublished observations suggest a decline in certain species of fish, e.g. grouper and jacks.
Extraction may inhibit full community development and function and may cause measurable but not severe degradation of ecosystem integrity.
What is the status of non-indigenous species and how is it changing?
Recent invasive species have been discovered, but abundances are low and there is no evidence that they have become established in natural areas
Non-indigenous species exist, precluding full community development and function, but are unlikely to cause substantial or persistent degradation of ecosystem integrity.
What is the status of key species and how is it changing?
Coral, mantas and sea turtles appear to be stable. Hammerhead, grouper, snapper, and jacks may be declining. Diadema sea urchin populations remain depressed since the 1983-84 die-off.
Selected key or keystone species are at reduced levels, perhaps precluding full community development and function, but substantial or persistent declines are not expected.
What is the condition or health of key species and how is it changing?
Observations of coral disease for four straight years, though no apparent population impact to date; loss of some Millepora alcicornis due to bleaching.
The condition of selected key resources is not optimal, perhaps precluding full ecological function, but substantial or persistent declines are not expected.
What are the levels of human activities that may influence living resource quality and how are they changing?
Stable levels of recreational diving, apparent increase and effectiveness of private and commercial fishing; no monitoring of use levels is in place.
Selected activities have resulted in measurable living resource impacts, but evidence suggests effects are localized, not widespread.
MARITIME ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESOURCES
What is the integrity of known maritime archaeological resources and how is it changing?
No documented underwater archeological sites.
Do known maritime archaeological resources pose an environmental hazard and is this threat changing?
No documented underwater archaeological sites.
What are the levels of human activities that may influence maritime archaeological resource quality and how are they changing?
No documented underwater archaeological sites.
▲ Conditions appear to be improving.