The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be holding two public meetings in Louisiana to get feedback on their proposal to expand the boundaries of Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary located off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

According to a press release from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, NOAA is considering five different options for expanding the sanctuary to better manage and protect important habitat and cultural resources and provide more opportunities for research and restoration. Options range from keeping the status quo to expanding the sanctuary up to 935 square miles.

The first meeting is slated for Tuesday, July 19, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Segnette Room of the Hilton New Orleans Airport, located at 901 Airline Drive in Kenner.

The second meeting is set for Thursday, July 21, at the Estuarine Habitats and Coastal Fisheries Center, located at 646 Cajundome Boulevard in Lafayette, and also will last from 5:30 to 7:30.

NOAA’s preferred option would expand the sanctuary 383 square miles to include an additional 15 banks, located from 70 to 120 miles offshore and comprised of reefs and bottom features that provide habitat for fish and other biological resources in the Gulf of Mexico. 

This proposal would extend the existing protections of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to these additional areas to limit any activities considered bottom-disturbing. These protections allow for commercial and recreational fishing by hook and line only; shrimp trawls, longlines, spear guns, and other fishing gear are prohibited. Additionally, anchoring any vessel within protected areas is prohibited, the release states.

If you cannot attend the meetings, you can submit comments electronically here using docket number NOAA-NOS-2016-0059, or send them by mail to George P. Schmahl, Sanctuary Superintendent, Flower Garden Banks NMS, 4700 Avenue U, Building 216, Galveston, Texas 77551.

All comments must be received by Aug. 19, 2016.