Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is among the healthiest coral reef ecosystems in the US Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, according to a new NOAA report.

Sanctuary managers will use the report to track and monitor changes in the marine ecosystem located 70 to 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

“We found that 50 percent of the area surveyed for this report is covered by live coral,” said Chris Caldow, a NOAA marine biologist and lead author on the report. “This is significant because such high coral cover is a real rarity and provides critical habitat for many different types of fish and other animals that live in these underwater systems.”

The sanctuary also is unusual in that it is dominated by top-level predators, including large grouper, jacks, and snappers that are virtually absent throughout the U.S. Caribbean. Researchers looked at the relationship between physical measures of the sanctuary’s habitat such as depth, slope and geographic location, and the nature of the fish community in each location.

The report cautions that despite the sanctuary’s relatively healthy condition, it may be more susceptible to environmental impacts than previously thought. For example, scientists observed high levels of coral bleaching and corals severely impacted from hurricane activity.

NOAA predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages the US coastal and marine resources.

For more on Flower Garden Banks see the NOOA site.

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