Plan would protect 21 coral hot spots in Gulf of Mexico

Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida border the Gulf of Mexico. | Source: MGN Online

Work is being done to protect corals in the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted: Nov 14, 2019 12:45 PM

A plan to protect corals in the Gulf of Mexico is close to becoming a law, drawing cheers from environmental groups who believe leaving the corals alone would help vulnerable ocean ecosystems to grow.

The plan would create 21 protected areas off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Thirteen of the areas would carry new commercial fishing restrictions, and that has attracted the attention of fishing groups, who want the government to take a cautious approach.

Pew Charitable Trusts has characterized the plan as a way to protect nearly 500 square miles of slow-growing coral “hot spots,” and is championing the protection plan as a way to spare vulnerable corals from fishing gear. The proposal would prohibit gear such as bottom trawls and dredges that can disrupt the corals.

Sandra Brooke, an oceanographer and coral ecology expert at Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory, said it’s important to spare the corals because of their importance to the marine environment and because they can have value for the development of new medicines.

“If we continue squandering, we are going to end up in a really bad place, because we can’t replicate what nature can do,” Brooke said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service is taking comments about the proposal until Nov. 25. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, a regulatory panel, approved the plan last year, but NOAA must still provide final approval.

NOAA Fisheries said in a statement that most of the areas slated to be protected are “extremely deep and fishing activity is sparse.” However, harvesters of valuable species such as grouper and snapper said they do fish in the areas.

Greg Abrams, owner of Greg Abrams Seafood in Panama City, Florida, said his company also harvests golden tilefish in some of the areas slated for closure. He said the change could represent a hardship.

“Each time you close the bottom or close the area, you put all the pressure on another area,” Abrams said.

Another fisherman, Destin, Florida-based Ariel Seafoods president David Krebs, said protecting the corals is wise as long as it’s done in a way that allows fishing groups to stay in business.

“I’m the guy who has watched, in his lifetime, different fisheries get fished down pretty hard and if it weren’t for regulations, we would not survive,” he said.

NOAA Fisheries has touted the proposal as a way to protect the corals while also sparing fish habitat from the impacts of commercial fishing. The agency has said that will ultimately support sustainable fisheries because it will improve the quality of ocean habitat where fish live, spawn and grow.

The corals provide shelter, breeding and feeding habitat for species that fishermen will ultimately rely upon for their catch, said Holly Binns, project director with Pew’s Conserving Marine Life effort.

“We want to protect these corals because they are a habitat for these creatures that commercial fishermen who are targeting them need,” Binns said. “It’s incredibly important that we are protecting them before they get damaged.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 514171

Reported Deaths: 10285
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34920557
DeSoto33270432
Hinds32652642
Jackson24876391
Rankin22516404
Lee16366245
Madison14932283
Jones14129247
Forrest13785260
Lauderdale12279324
Lowndes11314193
Lamar10663140
Pearl River9720244
Lafayette8855143
Hancock7839132
Washington7553169
Oktibbeha7216138
Monroe7036179
Pontotoc7003109
Warren6872178
Panola6768135
Neshoba6732210
Marshall6686142
Bolivar6451151
Union640898
Pike5933156
Alcorn5887107
Lincoln5533136
George510380
Prentiss505385
Tippah492783
Itawamba4857107
Scott478199
Adams4771125
Tate4765117
Leflore4736144
Copiah457095
Yazoo456692
Simpson4554117
Wayne443172
Covington434695
Sunflower4315106
Marion4279112
Coahoma4238109
Leake414090
Newton395782
Tishomingo384894
Grenada3777109
Stone365766
Jasper340866
Attala338790
Winston317892
Chickasaw316167
Clay312578
Clarke301295
Calhoun285949
Holmes271889
Smith269452
Yalobusha244247
Tallahatchie232053
Greene224749
Walthall221866
Lawrence219141
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster206248
Noxubee188743
Montgomery181857
Carroll174941
Jefferson Davis173843
Tunica163339
Benton153139
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134439
Humphreys132139
Franklin126029
Quitman107628
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845761

Reported Deaths: 16119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161862004
Mobile742411381
Madison53315732
Shelby38351369
Baldwin38104589
Tuscaloosa36052641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25590263
Calhoun22598518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20026518
Marshall18790316
Houston17741425
St. Clair16904358
Limestone16153219
Cullman16067303
Elmore15912294
Lauderdale14991306
Talladega14209299
DeKalb12985269
Walker12067380
Blount10729192
Autauga10526157
Jackson10170194
Coffee9425192
Colbert9341208
Dale9024192
Tallapoosa7273201
Russell708865
Chilton7042170
Escambia6956143
Covington6943195
Franklin6338108
Chambers5785142
Marion5413130
Dallas5295209
Pike5123109
Clarke484886
Lawrence4831129
Winston4780110
Geneva4643136
Bibb434594
Barbour369980
Butler3439100
Marengo342393
Monroe337466
Randolph334867
Pickens333988
Fayette330085
Henry320766
Hale318489
Cherokee318363
Crenshaw260777
Washington256952
Cleburne254560
Lamar251953
Clay251169
Macon245064
Conecuh193162
Coosa185547
Lowndes178268
Wilcox177638
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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