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The Flower Garden Banks
National Marine Sanctuary
(aka: The Flower Gardens)
Edited with additional original material by:  Bill JonesThe Scuba Guy
Map of the Flower Gardens

Located 115 miles from the Texas Gulf coast, the EAST & WEST FLOWER GARDEN BANKS are the northernmost living coral reefs on the continental shelf of the United States.  These reefs are formed on top of underwater salt domes in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Banks themselves are surface expressions of salt domes whose formation began 165 million years ago in what was a shallow sea that was subject to evaporation.   The coral reef community began developing on top of the domes more than 10,000 years ago.  Currents in the western Gulf probably carried young corals (planulae), animal larvae, and plant spores 400 miles northward from Mexican reefs in the Bay of Campeche.  A few of the young corals were lucky enough to settle down on the hard substrate of the Flower Garden Banks.  Amazingly, this location in the northwestern Gulf provided all the comforts of home needed for the hard corals such as a hard surface for attachment, clear sunlit water, warm water temperatures, and a steady food supply.  The coral community has thrived sufficiently enough to obscure all traces of the deformed bedrock on which it developed.  The corals now form the basis for a complex yet balanced ecosystem, providing a regional oasis for shallow-water Caribbean-reef species.  Coral heads are typically the size of a car.

Some of the first known discovery of the reefs was around 1902 when snapper fishermen began referring to the area as the Flower Gardens because they could actually see the "gardens" of coral and sponges as shallow as 50 feet!  The area remained a well kept secret until the 1930's when chartmakers located and mapped the area.  Geologists studying two of the reefs' shallowest features began to suspect that the Flower Garden Banks might harbor tropical corals.  In the early 1960's, divers from the Houston Museum of Natural Science were some of the first people to experience the massive coral reefs, schools of tropical fish, manta rays, and turtles.  Divers to the banks began to discover ancient drowned reefs, natural gas seeps, and a brine lake.  By the late 1960's, the Flower Gardens had become a popular Scuba diving site and object of much research.  A vast array of biological diversity and breathtaking beauty prompted researchers and recreational divers to seek protection for these ecological wonders.   In 1992, President George Bush (41) signed the order to designate the area as a National Marine Sanctuary providing legal protection for the Garden's preservation.  The area containing both the East and West Banks is 41.7 square nautical miles and contains 350 acres of reef crest.

Once a year, on the eighth day after an August full moon, the waters of the Flower Gardens explode with an effervescent white glow as the coral reefs begin spawning. This event can best be described as an "upside-down underwater snowstorm".  First discovered in 1990, this annual mass-spawning of corals at  the Flower Gardens led scientists to investigate the phenomena worldwide.

STETSON BANK, a third area added to the sanctuary in 1996, is also a salt dome.  Located 80 miles south of Galveston, there are 60 acres for divers to explore containing about 35 acres of reef crest.  The Bank is capped by uplifted layers of claystone and sandstone, which have eroded at unequal rates, creating a strange "moonscape" appearance.    Environmental conditions at this Bank, such as temperature fluctuations and water clarity, do not support the growth of reef forming corals like those found at the East and West Flower Garden Banks.  Instead, this bank supports a coral and sponge habitat and rich assemblages of associated animals and plants where the siltstone bedrock can still be seen in many places.  It too is home to many species of invertebrates and fish.

The gardens belong to all of us, enjoy them and protect them.

Read more about it:    Flower Gardens Permanent Mooring Sites
Flower Gardens Sanctuary News and Events
Texas Parks & Wildlife Artificial Reefs
Satellite Loop Over The Flower Gardens

Gulf of Mexico Wave Height & Direction Chart
Weather Information from a Buoy in Flower Gardens Area

   

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