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NOAA Seeks Public Input On Expanding Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary

Federal regulators propose expanding the protected underwater zone in the Gulf of Mexico to about 280 square miles, or about the size of Austin.

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The Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. It’s located about 100 miles off the Texas coast, and it includes some of the country’s northernmost coral reefs. NOAA’s Billy Causey says it has proposed expanding the zone by more than 200 square miles.

“When you visit the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary, it’s a tremendous place,” Causey said. “It’s just alive with color [and] movement. There’s a huge variety of fish as well as the corals themselves.”

Flower_Garden_Banks_Marine_Sanctuary_fancoral.jpgA fan coral in the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary/Courtesy NOAA.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to one of the 14 marine sanctuaries in the United States.

Causey says he expects to hear pushback about the proposed expansion from some groups like fisherman and divers concerned about increased regulation. The oil industry also has operations in the Gulf of Mexico, but Causey says he doesn’t think the expansion would create conflict with the industry.

“Most of the banks that are being proposed are areas that are already no-activity zones for oil and gas,” he says.

NOAA will take public comments next month in Houston and Galveston. Causey says they’ll draft an environmental impact study after considering citizens’ input.

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