Protecting critical habitat: Proposal aims to expand coral reef off Texas coast

Watch: Video explores amazing coral reef 100 miles from coast

If you’re familiar with the Texas coast, which isn’t exactly known for having crystal clear water, you probably never would have suspected that a mere 100 miles off Galveston is a 56-square-mile marine sanctuary.

The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is the only sanctuary site located in the Gulf of Mexico, and is home to a myriad of sea life, including 20 species of hard corals, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Currently, there is a proposal to expand the sanctuary from 56 square miles to 160 square miles to protect additional critical habitat in the Gulf.

According to the NOAA, the proposed rule for expansion would add 14 more reefs and banks to the sanctuary. Those reefs not only provide important habitat for recreationally and commercially important fish, but also for threatened and endangered species of manta rays, seat turtles and corals.

The interactive map above shows the current proposal for the expansion of the Flower Garden Banks. The public was given an opportunity to weigh in until July 3, 2020, and the current expansion proposal is still being reviewed by the NOAA.

Through the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the NOAA can identify, designate and protect marine areas that have special national significance.

Whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, have been spotted in the Flower Garden Banks. They are listed as endangered, and their population has “more than halved over the last 75 years as these slow-moving sharks continue to be fished and killed by ship propellers” according to an IUCN article from July 2016.

Related: How burying a loved one at sea helps coral reefs to thrive

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