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Visiting Your Sanctuary

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WHAT WILL I SEE?

Stetson Bank

A typical dive at Stetson Bank may begin with crystal blue waters or a murky green layer that gives way to clear waters about 15-20 feet below.

Since Stetson Bank is situated closer to shore (about 70 miles from the coast) it is more often influenced by freshwater input to the Gulf of Mexico, hence the occasional green water.

Don't let this deter you, however. Just follow the mooring line toward the bottom.

As usual, barracuda will be the first to greet you.

Head view of a barracuda

Keep descending and you'll catch your first glimpse of Stetson Bank, which is quite different from the coral reefs at East and West Flower Garden Banks. It looks more like a moonscape--open gravelly areas (sand flats) covered in algae, sponges and rocky outcroppings.

Rocky open area of sea floor with algae and rocky outcroppings

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Keep your eyes open now. It's not uncommon to see large southern stingrays resting on the bottom.

A southern stingray resting on the seafloor at Stetson Bank. Tufts fo green algae dot the surroundings and rocky outcroppings are visible in the background.

Or swimming gracefully, just above the reef.

A southern stingray swiming to the right over rocky outcroppings.

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Beyond the open sand flats, you see low-level outcroppings dominated by parallel rocky ridges. These are the eroded edges of upthrusted rock layers resulting from salt dome formation. Here at Stetson Bank, there is not as much coral cover so the ridges are right out in the open.

Ridges of rock exposed at the top of an outcropping underwater. Sea urchins, sponges, and fish can be seen hiding between the ridges.

Hiding between the ridges you might find sea urchins, moray eels, sponges or even an octopus or two. Many of the ridges are also covered in an encrusting form of fire coral.

Rocky ridges covered in bright yellow fire coral.  A squirrelfish swims above the ridges and several sea urchins and small fish are visible in the background.

As you continue toward the wall, you see larger and larger outcroppings covered in all kinds of sponges, algae, and the occasional corals.

A large, rocky outcropping covers in purple and orange sponges and tufts of green algae.

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This stuff is perfect habitat for camouflaged predators like the scorpionfish.

Large yellowmouth grouper swimming above a coral reef.

Some of the outcroppings resemble little islands of life swarming with tiny fishes.

A rounded outcropping covered in red sponges, yellow sponges, bits of algae, and a variety of other encrusted organisms.  A swarm of tiny fish swim about the top of the outcrop.

Others look like sponge gardens...

A reef outcropping covered in several different kinds of sponges.  Some are black, some are red and white, some are orange.  A diver with a camera is visible just behind the outcrop.

Hawksbill turtles think this is an ideal place to catch their favorite meal.

A hawksbill sea turtle resting on the botom at Stetson Bank

The number of fish you see here is simply amazing! Now you are beginning to understand why this is also part of the sanctuary.

Many different kinds of fish swimming above and around the reef outcrops covered in algae and sponges.

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But you still haven't seen what many divers consider the best spot at Stetson--Sierra Madracis.

Several scuba divers swim alongside a reef covered in Madracis corals and swarming with fish.

 

This pinnacle is covered in Madracis corals and the creolefish love it! You may find yourself absolutely surrounded by a huge school of them.

A swarm of creolfish swimming above the reef

Don't get distracted by just the fish. Large spiny lobsters and long-spine sea urchins lurk here, as well. Who knows what else may be hiding with them...

Spiny lobsters and long-spine urchins hiding in nooks between coral heads on the reef.

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Depending on the time of year, you might also come across some unusual visitors. Sea hares seem to gather here, on occasion. 

A large, shell-less sea slug swimming over an algae covered outcropping.  An inset in the lower right corner shows another view of the sea hare.

And, of course, if you look beyond the pinnacles to the deep waters off the wall, you might just see spotted eagle rays ...

A spotted eagle ray swimming past rocky outcroppings on the wall at Stetson Bank

...or sharks.

A silky shark swimming in open blue water

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There's so much to see! It's no wonder many divers like Stetson Bank as much or more than East and West Flower Garden Banks. You just have to get past that first look...

Rocky open area of sea floor with algae and rocky outcroppings

...and you're sure to come back again and again!

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SPECIES LIST

What you see in the visual tour above is just a snapshot of what lives in the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary. Over the years we've compiled quite a species list of plants and animals within recreational dive limits (down to 130 feet).

Check out our online Species Lists with Photos.

OR

Download a Species List (1.3MB pdf) to take with you.

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EAST & WEST FLOWER GARDEN BANKS

While many of the same species of plants and animals live at East and West Flower Garden Banks, the terrain there is quite different.

Take a visual tour of East & West Flower Garden Banks...

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NOTABLE NATURAL EVENTS

While everything you’ll see at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is pretty amazing, there are some events that truly stand out.  Click here to learn more about a few extra special natural events you might want to see. 

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weather report observations cool stuff get wet


Sea spout stretching from a dark cloud down to the sea surface and churning up a section of water.  Looks like a very narrow tornado.
   
National Marine Sanctuary logo - a stylized whale tail above waves