Bright Bank

Bathymetric map of Bright Bank showing the sanctuary boundary, as well as other relevant management zones and infrastructure.
Bright Bank lies to the east of Rankin and 28 Fathom Banks and is structurally connected by a series of patch reefs. Credit: FGBNMS

Depth Range: 112-384 feet (34-117 m)

Distance from Land: 124 miles (200 km)

Area: 7.7 square miles (19.9 sq km)

Bright Bank is shaped somewhat like a lion’s paw, with its crest around 112 feet (34 m) under water. It is structurally connected to Rankin and 28 Fathom Banks, to its west, by a series of patch reefs.

In the shallower areas, historic records report boulder-like reef structures occurring singly or clustered into reef patches up to 64 feet (50 m) in diameter.

Bright Bank was named after Tom Bright, a Texas A&M University marine biologist.

Hard coral covers part of a rocky outcropping, while the rest is covered in algae and sponges
Only a small amount of coral reef habitat remains on the crest of Bright Bank, as a result of treasure hunters using explosives to excavate. Photo: FGBNMS/UNCW-UVP

In the 1980’s, treasure salvage operators laid claim to a supposed Spanish Galleon on Bright Bank, and salvors have been exploiting/exploring the bank since that time. This has caused tremendous destruction to the coral boulders on the crest of the bank and left excavation pits 10-13 feet (3-4 m) deep. Sanctuary regulations prohibit this type of activity, whereas other federal regulations did not.

Metal poles stick out of a large hole that was blasted in the reef
An excavation pit and tools were left behind by treasure hunters in search of a Spanish Galleon at Bright Bank. Photo: FGBNMS/UNCW-UVP

The deeper areas at Bright Bank include extensive coralline algae and deep coral habitat, including some hard corals. Extensive fields of algae (Codium sp.) have also been documented.

A cluster of intertwined thick-stemmed pea-green algae
Fields of Codium algae have been noted at Bright Bank. Photo: FGBNMS/UNCW-UVP

Bright Bank is part of the Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) that also encompasses Rankin and 28 Fathom Banks, and the extensive area of patch reefs in between these features.

On the right, a feathery crinoid is anchored to the substrate with feet that look like plant roots. On the left, several green bottle brush corals and some pink fish are visible.
A crinoid clings to the substrate near some black corals in deep habitat at Bright Bank. Photo: FGBNMS/UNCW-UVP

Who Is Tom Bright?

Tom Bright was a Texas A&M marine biologist, who studied the Flower Garden Banks and surrounding areas throughout the 1970s and 1980s as part of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Topographic Features Study.

The results of his work with fellow researchers Dick Rezak and David McGrail were published as Reefs and Banks of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico in 1985. At the time of publication, it contained the most thorough account "of the geological, biological and physical dynamics of the Flower Gardens and other northwestern Gulf banks." (FGB EIS 1991)

Bright was also instrumental in getting Flower Garden Banks designated as a National Marine Sanctuary, drafting a major portion of the original Environmental Impact Statement. In many circles, he is referred to as "the father of the Flower Garden Banks."

Bright continues to work with and support the sanctuary in his retirement.

Tom Bright standing to the left of G.P. Schmahl as they photograph corals.
Tom Bright (left) and G.P. Schmahl photograph corals for a Coral ID Guide (March 2013). Photo: FGBNMS/Drinnen