Seven of our summer interns testified in a public meeting last week about the importance of protecting critical habitat in the Gulf of Mexico by expanding Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Here are three of their stories:
Hi, my name is Maya Clausen, I am from Dripping Springs, Texas.
As someone who spent their childhood in San Diego and was never more than half an hour away from the beach, the ocean has continued to hold a place in my heart, even in the middle of Central Texas. Because of this, I fully support the largest expansion of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
When I moved from California to Texas as a child, my hardest goodbye was the ocean and many of my earliest memories happened at the beach. It was one of the few things that I felt remained constant as I grew up, especially as the country entered the financial crisis.
After moving to Texas in search of a new start, my family quickly discovered the coast along the Gulf of Mexico, which of course is very different from California beaches that I grew up with, our yearly trips throughout my preteen years were always something I looked forward to because they always eased the stress my family felt, especially as money became tight in the height of the recession.
In order to preserve this beautiful place, the banks need to be expanded that way other people can feel the peace that I felt when I went to the ocean. But this is not enough, the boundaries created need to be based on the scientific data found by NOAA. In addition, the ban on longline and spearfishing that exists in the current sanctuary needs to be applied to all future expansions to further minimize future damage. As you know, these banks are the healthiest coral in the world and deserve to be protected. I feel that when you have something this precious and rare, it should be made a priority and taken care of as such because potential damages could cause permanent changes, as we can see with coral bleaching.
While climate change looms as an ever-present threat, in my mind it makes sense to take all the possible precautions and measures to maintain the vitality of our coral banks and to minimize the negative implications that come with rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification.
The ocean is a sacred place for so many people and deserves to be protected through the largest possible expansion of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and this expansion should be rooted in the most up to date data available.
To finish, I would like to thank you for your time today and urge you to stand with science.
Hi my name is Lisa, and i’m from Charlottesville, Virginia.
I have always loved the ocean ever since I was little, and I find that the best times I had growing up were the memories my family and I would take to the beach. I have a vivid memory of my first visit to the Atlantic, where I got to see turtles, dolphins, and even jellyfish for the first time, and it’s been my favorite place to visit since.
Flower Garden Banks is the only Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and protects the northernmost coral ecosystems in the United States. These waters provide critical habitat for sea turtles, manta rays, and countless other ocean creatures that need our protection.
Hi, my name is Gabby Kim, I’m from Cedar Park, TX.
As a college student studying ocean sciences in Maine, home to one of the fastest warming parts of the global ocean, I fully support the largest expansion to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
Having grown up in largely landlocked areas, I didn’t really get a chance to see and learn about a body of water bigger than a pool until last summer when I had the opportunity to work at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Through both their REU and off-campus study programs, I became fully immersed in oceanography and well-versed on both the causes and effects of the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine. Over the past couple years, Maine’s local fisheries took a massive hit as increased temperatures and overfishing led to an almost complete wipeout of Maine’s cod, one of the state’s biggest catches (which, as it stands, is not set to recover any time soon), and has caused other fish and whales to change their migratory patterns. Based on a visit to Portland’s fish exchange, the future of Maine’s fisheries seems extremely grim and set to close within the next couple of years. It also doesn’t look too hot for our lobsters and oysters which may also be threatened by microplastics from clothing and plastic bags, and increased nutrient runoffs from erosion and pesticides which may cause harmful algal blooms.
Bottom line: Maine’s fisheries, fishers, economy, and marine species are suffering from human-caused climate change and overfishing. So, for especially sensitive species like coral that foster such large, healthy biodiversity, disturbances like overfishing or longline fishing and pollution will cause irreversible damage and we need to make sure that that doesn’t happen.
All three interns concluded with one message: That we need to support the largest possible expansion of the Flower Garden National Marine Sanctuary.
Specifically, we asked the Sanctuary to
Approve the largest possible expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (both the publicly supported alternative and the staff proposed alternative were significantly bigger than the current proposal).
Ensure that the current ban on longline and spear fishing is extended to the new areas.
Continue to evaluate the ecosystem science and use connectivity and coral density to guide more expansions.
This Sanctuary is the only Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and protects one of the healthiest coral ecosystems in the world. These waters provide critical habitat for sea turtles, manta rays, and countless other ocean creatures that need our protection.
If you would like to join our interns in calling for this expansion, you can submit your comments online via www.regulations.gov using docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0033.