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Visiting Your Sanctuary

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Visiting Sanctuary Home    What Will I See?
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WHAT WILL I SEE?

East and West Flower Garden Banks

A typical dive at East or West Flower Garden Bank begins with a leap into crystal blue waters.  Upon submerging, you are immediately greeted by several barracuda keeping a watchful eye.

School of barracuda hanging out beneath a boat hull.

Schools of chub and jack may also pass through the area.

School of jacks swimming in open water.

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Looking down, you can already make out the reef 60 feet below.  Huge coral heads stretch as far as the eye can see.  You can’t see much detail at this point, but don’t worry, there’s plenty to see.  Just keep diving.

Underwater and looking down on two scuba divers swimming over a coral reef far below.  Streams of bubbles are rising from each of the divers.

As you approach the top of the reef you start to see all of the fish hovering near the coral heads, waiting to duck for cover should the need arise. 

Two scuba divers swimming from right to left above a coral reef.  Trails of bubbles rise behind the head of each diver and trail off toward the upper right.

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There is so much coral that you can hardly believe your eyes!  Boulders of coral pile on top of one another creating an amazing seascape. As much as 51% of the bottom is covered in live coral.

Coral reef scene showing coral colonies in layered forms as well as boulders.

Some interesting sponges find space among the corals too.

Boulders of coral with a large orange sponge colony growing on one side.

Bluehead and yellowhead wrasses, schools of chromis and creolefish, and a variety of damselfish are the most prevalent atop the reef. 

School of brown chromis swimming just above a coral reef.

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Also keep an eye out for butterflyfish, parrotfish and groupers. 

Large yellowmouth grouper swimming above a coral reef.

Under the ledges you’ll find squirrelfish, pufferfish, and eels.

Head of a spotted moray eel poking out from beneath a coral ledge.

Crabs and shrimp sometimes venture out onto the reef, but most often hide out in the nooks and crannies.

Two small red shrimp perched between coral and algae in a section of coral reef.

Small hermit crab, in a shell about 1 inch long, walking across an orange sponge.

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Christmas tree worms live right in the middle of coral heads with their bodies burrowed into the coral skeleton and only their colorful gills showing.

Four pairs of Christmas tree worm gills visible on the surface of a coral head.  On pair is orange, two are yellow, and one is white.

As you cruise over the reef, don't forget to look closely at the corals themselves. Some corals may have their polyps extended for feeding.

Close up view of pale orange coral polyps with white tentacles reaching out.

Eventually you will arrive at an open sand flat or even a sand channel.

Sandy bottom in the foreground then passing between large coral formations and continuing into the distance.

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This is where you may find an occasional nurse shark, sea turtle or stingray resting.  Queen conchs like these areas too. 

Queen conch in middle of sandy area.  Shell is about 1 foot long.

Stay still for a while and you’ll find that the barren looking sand is actually full of life. Lizardfish perch motionless on the sand, relying on their blotchy colors for camouflage.

A red and white patterned lizardfish perched on sand and rubble.

Yellowhead jawfish hover vertically above the sand, ready to dart back into their burrows at the first sign of danger.

Yellowhead jawfish hovering in a vertical position above sand and rubble.

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Don’t forget to look up every once in a while or you might miss a passing manta ray, spotted eagle ray or shark.  These large animals pass over the reef as silently as stealth bombers.  If you’re not looking at the right time, you may never know they are there.

Manta ray swimming from left to right through deep blue water.  Mantas wings are raised up showing it's underbelly markings.

On the way back to the surface, keep your eyes open. 

Midwater view looking down at the coral reef and up at the hull of a boat on the surface.

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You never know what you’ll see floating by you...

Comb jelly drifting in the water.

or cruising beneath you. 

Looking far below at a manta ray swimming above a sand flat surrounded by coral formations. The manta ray is so far below that it looks like a toy.

Even at your safety stop beneath the boat, there’s plenty to watch.

Looking up at the underside of a boat moored at the surface.  Silhouettes of 4 scuba divers are visible near the boat.

There’s never a dull moment at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary!

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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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STETSON BANK

While many of the same species of plants and animals live at Stetson Bank, the terrain there is quite different.

Take a visual tour of Stetson Bank...

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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