Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Ocean, Coastal, and Earth Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. David Hicks

Second Advisor

Dr. Erin E. Easton

Third Advisor

Dr. Owen Temby


Coral reefs provide critical habitat for diverse benthic communities; however, more than 10% of existing reefs have been lost as a result of natural and anthropogenic stressors. While there has been a decline in reefs around the world, East and West Flower Garden Banks (FGBs), part of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS), have maintained > 50% live coral cover for over 27 years as revealed by the FGBNMS long-term monitoring (LTM) program. In the 1980’s, the LTM program at East and West FGBs was developed in response to the expansion of oil and gas exploration, anchoring, and fishing impacts to assess coral and reef-associated benthic organism health. As part of the LTM program, repetitive photostations were established in 1989 to detect and evaluate long-term changes and changes within the benthic community at East and West FGB. However, the assertion of maintenance of over 50% live coral coverage has been questioned because of changes in LTM methods used for image acquisition and data analysis throughout the study period. To address this concern, I used a standardized methodology to reanalyze repetitive photostation data and found a significant increase in repetitive photostation coral coverage at West FGB from 1989 to 2017 (P = 4.3154 e–05) and no significant change at East FGB (P = 0.36783). This is in contrast to the recorded declines at other coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico region.


Copyright 2021 Rebekah A. Hernandez. All Rights Reserved.