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20 Things to Love   NOAA Corps Staff


20th anniversary design that includes the sanctuary logoIn honor of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary's 20th anniversary on January 17, 2012, we decided to put together a list of 20 things that people tell us they love about the sanctuary.

Scuba divers know that they'll always see something new, and possibly even something unexpected.

Scientists view the sanctuary as a great place to study and learn.

Fishers enjoy the seasonal gatherings of certain game fish.

There's no doubt about it--Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is an amazing place!

So, starting with a little bit of local flavor...


Mardi Gras Wrasse

This fish sports the famous Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green. It was also a newly identified species in 2008. So far it's found only in Flower Garden Banks NMS and reefs near Veracruz, Mexico.

Large boulder of a star coral species, about the size of a small car.
Massive Corals

East and West Flower Garden Banks are known for their massive coral formations. Various species of star and brain corals have piled on top of one another over the years, forming large boulders. Some are as big as small cars!

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A manta ray viewed from beneath as it swims in blue water.
Manta Rays

On any trip to the sanctuary, you are just about guaranteed to see a manta ray, if you are paying attention. In fact, so many have been sighted over the years that we've started a catalog to keep track of them. See how gracefully they glide over the reef in our ray video.

Golden smooth trunkfish, a boxy-shaped fish that is bright yellow with white spots. A small inset photo in the bottom right corner shows a normal smooth trunkfish that is black with white spots.
Golden Smooth Trunkfish

The smooth trunkfish (inset) is a fish found on reefs throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. But, only in Flower Garden Banks NMS will you find this bright yellow variant. DNA analysis tells us that it's the same fish, but we don't know what causes the color difference.

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Top of a silty mud volcano with a gas bubble rising up from the center
Mud Volcanoes

In some of the deep areas around the banks, methane gas bubbling up through soft, silty mud forms cones of sediment. These mud volcanoes can rise 100 feet off the bottom!

Goldentail moray eel peeking out from between coral formations on a reef
Moray Eels

These snake-like fish have no pectoral fins, but instead move by undulating their whole bodies. As fascinating as that is to watch, you are more likely to find moray eels peeking out from crevices in the reef waiting for the right meal to swim by.

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Spotted eagle ray swimming just above alge covered rocks
Spotted Eagle Rays

Spotted eagle rays are frequent visitors to the sanctuary and sometimes school around the banks. Their distinctive spots and eagle-like shapes make them easy to identify. Check out our ray video to see them in motion.

Star coral spawning

Star coral spawning

Star coral spawning

Star coral spawning

Star coral spawning

Mass Coral Spawning
(Roll your Mouse over each image on the left, from top to bottom, to see a spawning sequence)

Every year in August, corals in the sanctuary put on a fantastic spawning display--one of the most abundant displays in the entire Caribbean. The high concentration of these spawning corals creates a virtual snowstorm! This interactive photo display will give you some idea, but definitely watch our coral spawning video for the full effect.

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Coral reef swarming with fish
Stetson Pinnacles

Covered in smaller coral colonies and swarming with fish, this pinnacle at Stetson Bank is a favorite of divers. Spiny lobster, sea urchins, eels, shrimp and more just love all the nooks and crannies.

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Whale shark swimming above a reef
Whale Sharks

Whale sharks, the largest fish on the planet, are summer visitors to the sanctuary. For a little size perspective, watch our shark video. When possible, we tag these animals to learn more about their migration patterns in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Yellow, fan-shaped octocoral, several green, bottlebrush shaped black corals, and a few sea whips in deep habitat.
Deep Reefs

Colorful octocorals and diverse black corals live in the deeper reef habitats of the sanctuary. These areas are known as Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems.

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Super salty water forming a pool just above the sea floor near deep reefs.
Brine Seep

On the southeast edge of East Flower Garden Bank, about 270 feet below the surface, lies a shallow lake of super salty water caused by a brine seep in the seafloor. The seep water is so salty and dense that it actually looks like you are seeing a puddle underwater!

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Brown chromis, small light brown fish, swim above a reef.
Healthy Reefs

A study completed in 2009 determined that Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary has some of the healthiest reefs in the tropical Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico! The health of these reefs makes the sanctuary a sentinel site for identifying change in our oceans.

Queen conch sitting on a sandy patch of seafloor.
Queen Conchs

Queen conchs are usually found on reefs located near sea grass beds, which is where their young mature. But, Flower Garden Banks NMS is over 100 miles from the nearest sea grass beds and still has a mature, adult conch population.

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Whale shark swimming above a reef
Incredible Visibility

Underwater visibility is nothing short of amazing at Flower Garden Banks NMS. During the summer, it's not uncommon for horizontal visibility to exceed 100 feet! In this photo, taken by a diver, you can see a dive boat at the surface and the reef at least 60 feet below, not to mention a diver and a few fish.

Top of a silty mud volcano with a gas bubble rising up from the center
Marbled Grouper

The marbled grouper is a relatively shy species that prefers deeper reefs, so it's a special treat to see one while diving at Flower Garden Banks NMS.

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Loggerhead sea turtle floating in bright blue water and looking straight at the camera.
Sea Turtles

There are five species of sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico and two of those are considered residents at Flower Garden Banks NMS--loggerheads and hawksbills.

Spiny lobster walking across the reef at Stetson Bank
Lobsters and Crabs

Flower Garden Banks NMS is home to a variety of crabs and lobsters. Some do their best to blend in with the environment, while others have spectacular colors and markings. It's always great to see them going about their business on the reef.

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While diving at Flower Garden Banks NMS it's easy to find evidence that octopuses are in the area. Their middens, or discarded shell piles, are quite noticeable and give you an idea where to look. But, seeing an octopus out on the reef gives you a real sense of their flexibility and camouflage abilities.

Yellowhead jawfish hovering just above its burrow on the seafloor.
Yellowhead Jawfish

In the midst of so many colorful reef fishes, it's easy to overlook the wildlife living in the sand flats at Flower Garden Banks NMS. Yellowhead jawfish hover just above their burrows in the sand, ready to duck in tail first at the approach of danger.

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We hope you've enjoyed this brief look at some of what makes Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary a wonderful place to visit and an important place to protect. Please come back and visit us often. There is so much more to see!

Video Library
Photo Tour of East and West Flower Garden Banks
Photo Tour of Stetson Bank

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weather report observations cool stuff get wet

Small, knobby corals in foreground; boulder of brain coral in background.  Long, fingery branches of purple sponge anchored in knobby corals and standing upright.
National Marine Sanctuary logo - a stylized whale tail above waves