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NOAA releases final management plan for Flower Garden Banks Sanctuary

April 27, 2012

Scuba diver.

A scuba diver swims amid a school of fish at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A new rule prohibiting killing, injuring, touching or disturbing whale sharks and rays is part of the final management plan, regulations and environmental assessment for NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, released by the agency today.

The plan also includes revised regulations regarding use of dive flags by SCUBA divers; clarifies and updates restrictions on the release of any material into sanctuary waters; and limits the use of chumming materials to conventional hook and line fishing.

“The final management plan is the result of a collaborative effort and the hard work of sanctuary staff and the sanctuary’s advisory council,” said George Schmahl, sanctuary superintendent. “It includes detailed guidance for program priorities that we will use to manage this unique undersea resource for future generations to enjoy.”

Redllip blennies.

Redllip blennies often perch on their pelvic fins on top of coral heads.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Based on several years of scientific assessment and public input, the final management plan identifies actions to be undertaken by sanctuary staff within the next five to ten years to protect and conserve marine resources in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. It includes six action plans, each addressing a specific priority identified during the initial public scoping process: sanctuary expansion, education and outreach, research and monitoring, resource protection, visitor use, and operations and administration.

The final management plan, regulations, and final environmental assessment take effect May 29, and can be viewed online. Beginning in 2006, the management plan was developed through an extensive public process that included input from stakeholders and the sanctuary's advisory council through workshops, public hearings and submission of comments. This is the first revision to the sanctuary’s original management plan published in 1991.

Manta rays.

Manta rays are often sighted by divers in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. More than 70 individual manta rays have been identified visiting the sanctuary.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Periodic management plan review is required by Congress for each of the 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument administered under NOAA to ensure that they continue to conserve, protect and enhance their nationally significant living and cultural resources while allowing compatible commercial and recreational activities.

Located 70 to 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is one of 14 marine protected areas managed by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Designated 20 years ago in 1992, the sanctuary is home to some of the healthiest coral reefs in the South Atlantic and Caribbean region. It currently includes three separate banks, encompassing 56 square miles, that are part of a larger system of reefs and banks along the continental shelf in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook , Twitter and our other social media channels.

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