Frequently Asked Questions

Following are answers to the most common questions about Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). Just click on a question to see the response.

We hope this resolves your most burning questions, and maybe even provides answer to questions you didn't even know to ask! But, if you can't find the answer to your question here or somewhere else on our web site, feel free to email us at flowergarden@noaa.gov and we will do our best to provide an answer.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary was designated January 17, 1992. Stetson Bank was added to the sanctuary in 1996. For more information about events leading up to designation, visit our History page.

Single day calendar page for January 17, 1992

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary was designated because of concerns that the area needed protection from increasing human activities such as oil and gas extraction, anchoring on the reefs and harvesting of the wildlife.

A female diver in a wetsuit and wearing a hardhat standing on the back deck of a boat next to a hoisting cage containing a large anchor recently retrieved from the bottom of the ocean.
This anchor was retrieved from the sanctuary during a technical diving trip in 2009

Both researchers and recreational divers were influential in efforts to have the sanctuary designated. For more information about events leading up to designation, visit our History page.

At the turn of the century, snapper and grouper fishermen nicknamed this area the "Texas Flower Gardens" because of the colorful marine life they saw on the reefs below them. By the time the sanctuary was designated, the term 'banks' had been added to the name as a reference to the salt dome formations upon which the reefs are perched.

Colorful fish, corals and sponges on the reef at the Flower Garden Banks
Colorful corals, invertebrates and fish inspired the Flower Garden Banks name.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is located in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico and consists of three separate areas: East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank and Stetson Bank.

Atlas map of the sanctuary showing bathymetry of East and West Flower Garden Banks with an inset in the upper left corner showing Stetson Bank.  A second inset in the lower right corner shows where the banks are located relative to land.
Atlas-style map of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

The two Flower Garden Banks are 12 miles apart and located 100-115 miles directly south of the Texas/Louisiana border. Stetson Bank is located about 70 miles south of Galveston, TX, and about 30 miles northwest of the other two banks. For more information about sanctuary coordinates, visit our Buoys and Boundaries page.

For a more detailed look at the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, check out our interactive Map Tool.

The total area of the sanctuary is about 56 square miles (almost 36,000 acres), divided between three distinct areas.

Area of Sanctuary
 Location  Kilometers  Miles  Nautical Miles  Acres
 Stetson Bank  2.18  .84  .64  540
 West Flower Garden Bank   77.54  29.94  22.61  19,162
 East Flower Garden Bank   65.86  25.43  19.2  16,273
 All Three Banks   145.58  56.21  42.45  35,975

On average, only about 1% of the sanctuary is within the recreational dive limit of 130 feet (39.6 meters).

Area of Coral Reef Habitat Within Sanctuary
 Location  Kilometers  Miles  Nautical Miles  Acres
 Stetson Bank  .15  .06  .04  36
 West Flower Garden Bank   .42  .16  .12  102
 East Flower Garden Bank   1.43  .55  .42  354
 All Three Banks   2.0  .77  .58  492

The coral reef cap begins at about 55 feet (~17 m) in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and continues to a depth of about 160 feet (~49 m). But, that's not the bottom of the sanctuary. A variety of other habitats are found below the reef cap where depths range from 160 to 476 feet (~145 m).

A bright red crinoid attached to a white colored black coral with yellow soft corals in the surrounding area.
A bright red crinoid shares space with gorgonians and black corals in deeper habitat of the sanctuary.

East and West Flower Garden Banks are known for their large boulder corals, primarily brain and star corals, which cover about 50% of the available surface area on the reef cap. In and around the reef you will see many of the same reef fishes common to more familiar Caribbean dive sites, but not quite as much variety. If you are fortunate, you may also see some of the larger residents such as manta rays, sea turtles and whale sharks, to name a few.

Overhead view of divers swimming just above a deep reef.
Overhead view of divers swimming just above the reef cap that starts 55-60 feet below the surface.

Take a photo tour of East & West Flower Garden Banks

At Stetson Bank, you will see upthrust ridges of rock covered in corals, algae and sponges. In many ways, this makes it easier to see the variety of reef fishes and invertebrates that call the northwestern Gulf of Mexico home. By looking in all the nooks and crannies you will certainly find eels, urchins, shrimp, lobsters and shellfish. Large spotted eagle rays are known to frequent the outer edges of this area, as well.

Horizontal ridges of rock with fish, urchins, and sponges tucked in between.
Upthrust ridges of rock are clearly visible at Stetson Bank and provide habitat for a variety of fishes and invertebrates.

Take a photo tour of Stetson Bank

For more information about sanctuary wildlife, visit our Species List pages or the Sanctuaries Media Library.

The simple answer to this question is, "You need a boat!" There are several commercial dive and fishing charter operators that take people out to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the surrounding oil and gas platforms. Alphabetical listings are available on our Dive Charters and Fishing Charters pages.

Stern view of a dive charter boat with a rigid hull inflatable boat mounted on the back dive platform.
A recreational dive charter in the sanctuary

You may also choose to head out to the sanctuary in a private boat. If this is the case, be sure to look at the Visiting Your Sanctuary section of our website to help you plan for your trip.

No. Anchoring is prohibited in the sanctuary. In addition, the sanctuary was designated as an international "No Anchoring Area" by the International Maritime Organization in 2001. However, vessels of 100 feet or less in length may tie up to mooring buoys within the sanctuary on a first come, first served basis.

A 100-foot long boat tied to a mooring buoy in the sanctuary
A 100-foot dive charter boat tied off to a mooring buoy in the sanctuary

For more information on anchoring guidelines, visit our Reef Etiquette and sanctuary Regulations pages.

Yes. However, visitors to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary are only allowed to fish using traditional hook and line gear. This is defined in the regulations as any fishing apparatus operated aboard a vessel and composed of a single line terminated by a combination of sinkers and hooks or lures and spooled upon a reel that may be hand or electrically operated, hand-held or mounted.

5 men with fishing poles in a small boat out in the sanctuary
Fishers visiting the sanctuary

All other fishing within sanctuary boundaries, including spear fishing, is strictly prohibited. For more information on fishing regulations, visit our sanctuary Regulations page.

Yes. Snorkeling is an acceptable recreational activity in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Keep in mind, however, that the reef cap starts at 55 feet and goes deeper, so you probably won't be able to see much detail of the reef from the surface of the water. What you may get a good look at are barracuda, jacks, chubs, sea turtles, manta rays and maybe even a whale shark. An occasional clump of sargassum may also provide some interesting viewing if you look closely.

5 men with fishing poles in a small boat out in the sanctuary
Great Barracuda hanging out under a dive boat in the sanctuary

Please remember not to harass any of the animals, just look and enjoy! For more information on suitable snorkeling behavior, visit our Reef Etiquette page.

No. While it may be tempting to collect shells or other interesting items from Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, that is a prohibited activity. We ask all our visitors to practice a "leave only bubbles, take only memories" philosophy within the sanctuary so that future visitors will have the same opportunity to marvel at all the wonderful creatures living there.

For more information, visit our sanctuary Regulations page.

Queen conch resting on a sandy area in the sanctuary
Queen conch shells are pretty, but they are homes to living animals. It is illegal to remove them from the sanctuary.

Feel free to take pictures, or just click on almost any image on this website for a larger, hi-resolution image to download. If you use our images for other than your personal enjoyment, we'd appreciate credit to FGBNMS. If you have any questions about using our images, please contact us.

No permit is needed to dive or snorkel in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. All we ask is that you observe all of the sanctuary regulations while doing so. For more information, visit our sanctuary Regulations page.

A diver hovering above the reef watching a manta ray swim by to his right
A diver enjoys an encounter with a manta ray by looking, not touching. Sanctuary regulations prohibit touching or disturbing rays or whale sharks.

No sanctuary-issued permit is needed to fish within Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. However, you do need to be aware that only traditional hook and line fishing is permitted within sanctuary boundaries. For more information on sanctuary regulations, visit our sanctuary Regulations page.

5 men with fishing poles in a small boat out in the sanctuary
Fishers enjoying the sanctuary

Fishing enthusiasts should also be aware of Federal fishing regulations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Recreational Fishing Regulations for Gulf of Mexico Federal Waters

Commercial Fishing Regulations for Gulf of Mexico Federal Waters

No permit is needed to use the mooring buoys at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. However, only vessels of 100 feet or less in length may use them.

Mooring buoys are available on a first come, first served basis, and courtesy and cooperation are encouraged between vessels. For more information on mooring buoy setup and locations, visit our Mooring Buoys and Boundaries page.

Looking over the bow railing of a boat at the lines attaching it to a mooring buoy in the water
A boat tied off to one of the mooring buoys in the sanctuary

Yes. Research is encouraged at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, but most research activities DO require a permit. More information and links to permit application materials are available on our Permits page.

Queen conch resting on a sandy area in the sanctuary
A research diver navigates across the reef

We will do our best to help you realize your goals while adhering to sanctuary regulations and policies. For more information on research activities and opportunities, visit our Research page.