In 2004, the oceanographic research ship, Thomas Jefferson, set off on a journey of discovery. It’s destination – Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the surrounding seas. The ship brought with it an arsenal of research tools, from side-scan sonar units to sediment sampling equipment. As they “pinged” along the bottom, the ship’s high resolution multi-beam survey instruments drew pictures on computer screens, revealing the hidden world at the bottom of the ocean.
As it passed between the East and West Flower Garden Banks, the ship’s equipment began to show that all was not mud and clay. Instead, it illuminated hundreds of patch reefs ringed around scattered mud volcanoes. These patch reefs formed a horseshoe shape around the central volcanoes, and thus, the new bank was named. After the Thomas Jefferson moved on to other explorations, another crew of researchers returned to the site, this time equipped with ROVs.
The video and pictures from the ROVs showed that Horseshoe Bank is home to extensive coral assemblages. Black corals, octocorals, and deep reef fish all inhabit the patch reefs that make up the bank, and act as the foundation of a habitat that provides shelter and resources for pelagic animals (i.e. creatures living in the water column between the surface and the bottom). Additionally, the site acts as a nursery for juvenile fish, such as groupers, that then migrate to Flower Garden Banks as adults.
Current Status and Threats
Currently, no anchoring or bottom contact fishing gear is allowed at Horseshoe Bank. However, the surrounding area is still vulnerable to gas and oil exploitation as Horseshoe is not yet designated by BOEM as a “No Activity Zone” and fishing is still common in the waters above.
Future and Recommended Protection
During the Flower Garden Banks management plan review process, much support was expressed for an expansion of the Sanctuary’s boundaries to include areas like Horseshoe Bank. One of the current proposals would result in its inclusion. Not only would this be beneficial for the Bank itself, but would also better protect the biological connectivity of the ecosystem and provide regulatory consistency between the banks.
Marine Conservation Institute and the Waitt Foundation provide this
interactive tool to help users visualize the locations and coverage of global
marine protected areas (MPA). This atlas provides information on over 8000 MPAs
globally, drawing on datasets from the
World Database on Protected Areas1,
US MPA Center2,
and other country- and regional-level data authorities, as well as research
conducted by the Marine Conservation Institute.
In addition to MPA boundaries and site management information, this dataset
contains information on conservation measures with a particular focus on those
restricting the exploitation of marine life.
Features on this site are designed to allow users to understand (1) where current
protection exists and at what level, and (2), where important areas for future protection
are and any processes underway to establish MPAs. This provides vital information to
countries and their citizens interested in ocean conservation, management and stewardship.
The dataset is constantly being updated and we welcome visitors to the site to provide
feedback and update content by creating a member account on MPAtlas today.