ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Diving at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Texas

Updated on April 28, 2010

Divers at the Flower Garden reefs in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico encounter Atlantic mantas often enough to identify the regulars by their distinctive body blotches, which are as unique as fingerprints. Manta rays are the signature animals of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, twin reefs 100 miles off the Texas coast. It's amazing that these two tiny coral outposts ever managed to find a foothold hundreds of miles from the nearest reefs in Florida and Mexico. But thanks to Gulf Stream eddies, the conditions here are downright Caribbean. Warm Gulf currents ferry coral larvae to the twin undersea salt domes, which were pushed to within 60 feet of the surface during the late Jurassic period, about 180 million years ago.

The West Flower Garden reef, a footprint-shaped formation no more than 100 acres in size, caps a bank five miles long and three miles wide. The East Flower Garden flaunts a reef cover almost three times the size of its western counterpart. Unlike a typical Atlantic reef with soft and hard coral species, the Flower Gardens are covered entirely in stony corals, mostly brain and star varieties. With depths from 60 to 100 feet, dive sites appear as expansive coral meadows filled with boulder-size coral heads scattered at random. Many of the enormous coral heads have undersides smeared with encrusting sponges in strawberry red, mustard yellow, and sulphur orange.

Some of the smaller coral heads have been sculpted into toadstool shapes by a process known as bioerosion, which includes the effects of animals grazing on the coral or digging holes in the formation. Small caverns riddle many of the formations, making the perfect habitat for reef fish like spotfin butterflyfish, yellowfin grouper, sharpnose puffers, and queen angelfish.

Only a few patches of sand interrupt the thick blanket of coral. In the narrow sandy alleys between the coral heads, tiny yellowhead jawfish stand vertically at attention above their burrows. Yellow goatfish probe the bottom with catfishlike whiskers called barbels. Schools of blue chromis, which can be quite pugnacious for four-inch-long fish, hover over the coral heads, while schools of two-foot-long, silvery horse-eye jacks rush through the reef. Near the dive boat, barracudas assemble below the safety lines.

More than Mantas

Besides the Atlantic mantas — year-round regulars — two different mobula ray species frequent the Flower Gardens in the spring and summer. And there are more than rays in the megafauna departments. Every summer, divers encounter at least a half-dozen whale sharks. In the late 1990s, sport divers saw these massive filter-feeders on more than 25 occasions during a three-month period. Whale sharks often mosey along, feeding near the surface. Sometimes they hang out in a tail-down position waiting for something tasty to swim overhead — when it does, the shark sucks it in, plankton, small fish, and all. Easy to identify, whale sharks can be up to 60 feet long, with a distinctive polka-dot design.

Every winter, schooling sharks and spotted eagle rays migrate to the Flower Garden reefs. The most fascinating members of the pelagic parade, scalloped hammerhead sharks, congregate here in schools of up to 50 individuals, from December to early April. The eagle rays' unusually long tails and white-ring patterns make them easy to identify. Unlike the leisurely mantas, eagle rays fly through the reef, seldom slowing down. And unlike other rays, spotted eagle rays sometimes join formations of hammerheads. In the fall, winter, and spring, silky sharks congregate en masse at the gas platform known as HI389A, a mile southeast of the East Flower Garden reef. From just below the surface to depths of about 30 feet, groups of these silvery, smooth-skinned sharks circle the metal structure, totally disregarding the thrilled divers.

Continued In: Diving at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Texas - Part 2


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)