The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the only sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. Located 70 to 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary includes underwater communities that rise from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico atop underwater mountains called salt domes. The sanctuary protects three separate areas: East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank, and Stetson Bank. These are only three among dozens of banks scattered along the continental shelf of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.
During the 2016 field season, the FGBNMS research team was involved in 13 research cruises and expeditions. The R/V MANTA is utilized to conduct research activities in the western Gulf of Mexico in and around the Sanctuary. The 82’ 8” x 30’ aluminum catamaran is the largest research vessel built for NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary program by All American Marine.
The 2016 research cruises include biological surveys and sample collection, investigations in response to a mass die-off of invertebrates at East Flower Garden Bank (EFGB), response to a bleaching event, removal of invasive species, equipment maintenance, image collection, and dive safety training. The MBON researchers at USF also participated in dives in FGBNMS to collect eDNA samples during coral spawning. Read about the Coral Spawning Observations.
All of the banks are part of a regional ecosystem and heavily influenced by water current patterns within the Gulf. Inflows from the large watershed that drains two-thirds of the continental United States also play a significant role in the health of this region. In July 2016, researchers at the Sanctuary investigated unprecedented numbers of dying corals, sponges, sea urchins, brittle stars, clams and other invertebrates on the East Flower Garden Bank (EFGB). Read more about this event and how MBON researchers used satellite images to investigate water quality issues caused by heavy rains.