Largest Gulf of Mexico Marine Sanctuary Will Triple in Size

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The Gulf of Mexico’s largest coral sanctuary is set to nearly triple in size

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary will be expanded from 56 square miles to roughly 160 square miles following approval from the U.S. government earlier this month, giving increased protection to fragile reefs off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
“Adding these ecologically significant reefs and banks will protect habitats that contribute to America’s blue economy and drive ecological resilience for much of the Gulf of Mexico region’s thriving recreation, tourism, and commercial fishing,” deputy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Tim Gallaudet says in a press release.

The NOAA-managed sanctuary, established in 1992, lies 115 miles from the coast. The expansion — proposed during the Bush presidency, formalized during the Obama administration and completed during Trump’s last week in office — is expected to go into effect in the spring. It will give an additional 14 reef systems protection against oil and gas expansion, bottom-trawling and anchoring.

NOAA’s initial proposal for a larger expansion to more than 380 square miles received pushback from the fishing and oil and gas industries.
“As is typical with these sorts of things, there’s compromise and give and take,” G.P. Schmahl, the sanctuary’s superintendent, tells Nola.com.

Expanding these protections aid fisheries, Schmahl says. The sanctuary’s healthy populations of red snapper, grouper and mackerel are highly commercialized. Hook-and-line fishers will not be affected by the expansion.

“From an economic point of view, it’s critical for fish that are important both recreationally and commercially,” he says. “If you fish the Gulf of Mexico, these areas are where the fish you want to catch have spawned and grown.”
Divers in the area will also be pleased with the new protections — healthier coral can be a haven for more endangered species like sea turtles and manta rays, as well as rare endemic fish that can’t be seen elsewhere.

“It’s an incredibly important place in its own right,” Schmahl says. “With all the colorful corals and fish around them, it’s just a glorious area.”

Sıurce: scuba diving

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