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Houstonians Weigh In On Expanding NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary

Federal regulators want to expand the sanctuary by 200 square miles, to an area about the size of Austin. That drew concern from some groups in Houston, including oil and gas companies that operate in the Gulf of Mexico.


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Update after the meeting at 8 p.m.

NOAA MapNOAA map of the proposed expanded boundaries of the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary.


Story version last updated March 5 at 5:20 p.m. before the meeting.

The Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary gets its name from its colorful coral reefs. It’s managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. They want to expand the protected zone by 200 square miles, to an area about the size of Austin.

G.P. Schmahl is superintendent of the Flower Garden Banks. He says at a meeting in New Orleans Tuesday, many residents supported the expansion.

“We had some specific comments from recreational divers who felt that expanding the sanctuary would also expand opportunities,” says Schmahl.

NOAA is taking public comments in Houston tonight. The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Bayland Community Center.

Schmahl says he wouldn’t be surprised to hear concerns from oil and gas companies, many of whom operate in the Gulf of Mexico. But Schmahl says this is an opportunity to work out those details.

“It may be that there’s not as much conflict as there appears to be at first glance,” he says.

The group will be in Galveston March 11. If you can’t make any of those meetings, the public comment period runs through April 6. NOAA will then draft an environmental impact study.