Houston Chronicle

Prolonged government shutdown could spell trouble for coral reef in Gulf of Mexico

As the days of the federal government shutdown increase, so, too, do the chances of an emergency happening on the coral reef system 100 miles off the coast of Galveston.

And if an oil spill or a major mortality event occur during the shutdown, those who work in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary office will be powerless to mitigate it.

"If some sort of emergency occurs ... the staff will have limited capacity to respond and basically the response would occur by the Coast Guard," said Adrienne Correa, a Rice University researcher who serves on the sanctuary's advisory council. "But the staff have a different type of knowledge of the reef ... the Coast Guard lacks the tools and place-based knowledge."

The sanctuary is a network of federally protected coral reef systems in the Gulf of Mexico. And at a time when a quarter of coral reefs worldwide are considered damaged beyond repair, it's home to some of the healthiest reefs in the region.

Scientists say it's because of its location: 70 to 115 miles off shore and 55 to 160 feet deep.

But the sanctuary has had problems in the past: 2016 brought the worst bleaching year for the sanctuary in more than a decade when 2 percent of the reef, inexplicably, died.

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