Manta ray

Manta rays, (Manta birostris), may be encountered at the Flower Gardens throughout the year. At least 35 individuals have been identified by Texas A&M University marine ecologist, Jeff Childs. They have identifying markings on their undersides. (Courtesy of Emma Hickerson) Click image for larger view.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Profile

Underwater Gardens

A pair of underwater gardens emerge from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, like oases in the desert, 100 mi off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Named for the beautifully colored fish and coral rocks that fishermen found there in the early 1900s, the Flower Garden Banks are surface expressions of salt domes beneath the sea floor. This premiere diving destination harbors the northernmost coral reefs in the United States, and serves as a regional reservoir of shallow-water Caribbean reef fish and invertebrates.

Research and Education Objectives

In 2001, the Islands in the Stream Expedition will focus on the characterization of deep- water habitats, with particular emphasis on commercially exploited groupers and snappers that reside along fault scarps and in drowned reefs. The mission will also explore a 60 m-wide brine seep (pool) and an overflow canyon 70 to 100 m deep, and will measure current flows in order to investigate the system’s long-term stability. During an open house scheduled for Galveston, Texas, the public will be invited to tour the ship and see the submersibles and other equipment used in the expedition.

Key Features of the Banks

The Flower Garden Banks comprise 56 sq mi that include two coral-reef-capped banks and one sandstone bank with fire coral and sponge-covered pinnacles and flats. The feature was designated as a national marine sanctuary in 1992, and amended in 1996 to include the Stetson Bank. A digital map of the area identifies these protected areas.

The key habitats to be explored include sand flats, soft sediments, bank reefs, drowned reefs, pinnacles, hard substrate (also called hard bottom), algal sponge communities, brine seeps/flows, fault scarps, and artificial reefs.

Key species include star coral, brain coral, manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and endangered loggerhead sea turtles.

Interesting Facts about the Banks

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