Sanctuary islands in a hostile matrix: The perception, representation, and protection of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Gulf of Mexico

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Journal Article
Island Studies Journal, 2019, 14 (2), pp. 157 - 170
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© 2019—Institute of Island Studies. The Flower Garden Banks (FGBs), located in the Gulf of Mexico due south of the Texas-Louisiana border, are protrusive, ocean-floor diapirs. These features, which occur widely around the Gulf’s coastal plains and continental shelf, are caused by dome-shaped extrusions of salt deposits into the strata above them. The FGBs are distinct and merit analysis on account of the peculiarity of their fate in the Anthropocene Era in a region that has been heavily exploited and impacted by both offshore oil-drilling and by commercial and recreational fishing. Unlike many other diapirs, the FGBs have benefitted from perception, identification, and characterisation as distinct islands (in the biogeographical sense of the term), and from their successful nomination as a US National Marine Sanctuary (NMS). This article reflects on these aspects with regard to the nature of and criteria informing the US Act that enabled the creation of NMSs; the key concept of ‘sanctuaries’ involved; and the manner in which the FGBs have been conceived, protected, and represented under the Act. Attention is also accorded to the manner in which the FGBs have been represented in various media and how this effectively creates them for the general public. Drawing on these discussions, the article identifies both the complexity involved in conceptualising a submarine space as an NMS and the fragility of such sanctuaries in the late Anthropocene and, more specifically, during a period of political turmoil within the nation-state that established them.
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