Stetson Bank Long-Term Monitoring: 2016 Annual Report

This report documents study methods and summarizes key findings and field notes from the 2016 annual long-term monitoring study of fish and benthic communities at Stetson Bank. Stetson Bank is an uplifted claystone/siltstone feature located within Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, and supports a diverse benthic community of sponges and coral. Benthic monitoring has been conducted at the site since 1993 and was expanded in 2015 to include monitoring in the mesophotic habitats surrounding the bank crest.

In 2016, bank crest high relief habitat was documented to have higher hydrocoral and sponge cover than low relief habitat, with overall macroalgae cover increasing from 2015 levels. Bank crest fish communities were predominantly small individuals and exhibited an inverted biomass pyramid. In the mesophotic zone, two hardbottom habitats were documented: coralline algae reef and deep reef. Biotic cover on coralline algae reef was predominantly Rhodophyta (red algae) and Astrocoeniidae (stony coral), and deep reefs were dominated by Antipathidae (black coral). Mesophotic fish communities comprised small individuals, like the bank crest, and biomass was predominantly invertivores.

Key Words

Benthic Community, Fish Community, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Long-Term Monitoring, Mesophotic Coral Ecosystem, Stetson Bank, and Water Quality.