Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

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Chapter 4. ECOLOGICAL CRITERIA

(Guidelines and Criteria Section B/ Ecological Criteria) Nominated areas must conform to at least one of the eight ecological criteria. Describe how the nominated site satisfies one or more of the following criteria. (Attach in Annex any relevant supporting documents.)

Representativeness:


The Flower Garden Banks are the most important examples of tropical reef communities on the banks of the NW Gulf of Mexico and also protect deepwater benthic communities that exist on deep soft bottom and hardgrounds in the region.

Conservation value:


The sanctuary protects healthy diverse coral populations and other benthic invertebrates that are key components of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and are  essential habitat for many commercial and other fish species. The coral reefs are considered some of the healthiest in the Caribbean region and their protection is important to the condition of the wider Gulf ecosystem.

Rarity:


The Flower Garden Banks are unique for their large, healthy coral populations. Coral cover has been consistently high (>50%) over 30 years of monitoring. Acropora plamata colonies exist, which are the deepest records of this species. Deepwater habitats include algal nodule reefs, brine seeps and chemosynthetic communities and mud volcanoes.

Naturalness:


Sanctuary regulations have ensured that the coral reefs and deepwater features are some of the most undisturbed habitats in the Gulf of Mexico.

Critical habitats:


In addition to protecting coral species, the sanctuary has special regulations protecting whale sharks and manta rays, which are present in sanctuary waters. The Flower Garden Banks are also important spawning aggregation sites for snapper and grouper fish species.

Diversity:


The coral reefs of the Flower Garden Banks are concentrations of tropical marine species in the northern Gulf of Mexico and uniquely diverse compared to other banks in the region.

Connectivity/coherence:


The Flower Garden Banks are one of a chain of reefs and banks that ring the Gulf of Mexico. These banks are ecologically and physically connected by the currents and species migrations through the Gulf. They form part of a network of key habitats that sustain the diversity and abundance of marine life within the Gulf of Mexico and are linked to the east coast of the US by the Loop and Florida Currents.

Resilience:


The robust nature of the coral reef populations, including high coral cover and colony sizes, demonstrate the resilient and resistance of the ecosystem to disturbances that have disrupted other coral reefs in the Caribbean.