Long-Term Monitoring at East and West Flower Garden Banks: 2016 Annual Report
This report summarizes fish and benthic community observations and water quality data collected from East Flower Garden Bank and West Flower Garden Bank long-term monitoring study sites in 2016. East Flower Garden Bank and West Flower Garden Bank are part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and located in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. The annual long-term monitoring program officially began in 1989, and is funded by NOAA's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. In 2016, mean coral cover was 49.92% within the East Flower Garden Bank study site and 58.54% within the West Flower Garden Bank study site. Mean macroalgae cover was 37.15% within the East Flower Garden Bank study site and 25.69% within the West Flower Garden Bank study site. Percent coral cover within repetitive study site photostations and at deep repetitive photostations ranged from 60-75%. The Orbicella species complex, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, accounted for the majority of the coral cover within the study sites. Fish surveys conducted in 2016 indicated an abundant and diverse reef fish community, predominated by Labridae and Pomacentridae families. Water column temperatures warmed quickly in 2016, leading to the most severe coral bleaching event recorded at both banks. A localized mortality event was also documented and studied at East Flower Garden Bank. Decreased salinity, high temperatures, and low oxygen levels may have been contributing factors to the event. Bleached corals recovered after water temperatures dropped below threshold levels.
Benthic Community, Bleaching, Coral Ecosystem, Coral Mortality, Coral Reef, Fish Community, Long-Term Monitoring, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Gulf of Mexico, Marine Protected Area, Water Quality.