Stetson Bank Long-Term Monitoring: 2022 Annual Report

This document describes the methods used, field data analyses, significant observations, and challenges encountered during annual long-term monitoring of fish, benthic communities, and water quality at Stetson Bank in 2022. This bank is located 130 km southeast of Galveston, Texas within Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. It features a productive benthic community and dense fish assemblage. The bank crest has been monitored annually since 1993, and surveys of the mesophotic zone surrounding the bank crest began in 2015.

Monitoring activities completed in 2022 included water quality sampling, bank crest and mesophotic repetitive photostations and fish surveys, mesophotic random transects and fish surveys, bank crest video transects, and sea urchin and lobster surveys. Field work and data collection were, however, limited in 2022 due to challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including vessel and diving restrictions. As a result, bank crest random transects and fish surveys, as well as contaminant analyses, were not completed.

Despite the limitations, 86% of bank crest repetitive photostations (51 of 59) were captured in 2022. Coral, hydrocoral, sponges, and macroalgae had mean percent cover of 4.42%, 3.96%, 14.02%, and 51.82%, respectively. Although Millepora alcicornis colonies exhibited some bleaching and/or paling, no signs of stony coral tissue loss disease were observed. Seawater temperatures did not exceed 30°C but remained at or above 29°C for 24 consecutive days.

In addition to extending an important long-term monitoring database for Stetson Bank, the report details the challenges encountered and resolutions to ensure future field work.

Key Words

benthic community, fish community, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, long- term monitoring, Stetson Bank, water quality