Northwestern Gulf Banks

Map showing all of the reefs and banks off the Texas and Louisiana coastlines
Map of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico banks with sanctuary boundaries marked. Click on the image for a larger view. Image: FGBNMS

The region in which Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) resides is the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. The sanctuary consists of 17 banks scattered along the continental shelf off of Texas and Louisiana, but these are not the only banks in this region. Additional banks extend both east and west of the sanctuary, and several more can be found within the same range as the sanctuary's banks.

The first comprehensive descriptions of these reefs and banks were published by Texas A&M University researchers, Drs. Tom Bright, Richard Rezak, David McGrail, and others, as part of a project funded by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Researchers on the deck of a ship in the Gulf of Mexico in 1972
Researchers on a 1972 FGORC expedition to the Flower Garden Banks. Photo: Courtesy of Rusty Putt

These explorations in the 1970s and 1980s were conducted in response to increased pressures by the oil and gas industry. The findings from these explorations were presented in a book entitled Reefs and Banks of the Gulf of Mexico, published in 1985. In this book, the authors presented the initial zonation scheme for deepwater habitats in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

Since 1998, the sanctuary research team has put considerable effort and resources into increasing our knowledge of these reefs and banks. With the help of many partners, we have obtained high-resolution multibeam bathymetry, then groundtruthed the areas to characterize the habitats of key features in the region.

Banks in Brief

Following is a listing of the FGBNMS reefs and banks from west to east. Click on each bank name for more detailed information and images.

Stetson Bank - named for Henry Stetson, a geological oceanographer with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI)

West Flower Garden Bank - named for the colorful reefs that look like undersea gardens

Horseshoe Bank - named by sanctuary staff for its shape

East Flower Garden Bank - named for the colorful reefs that look like undersea gardens

MacNeil Bank - named for F. Stearns MacNeil, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist

Rankin Bank - named for John L. Rankin of Minerals Management Service (now BOEM)

28 Fathom Bank - named for its depth

Bright Bank - named for Thomas Bright, a Texas A&M University marine biologist

Geyer Bank - named for Richard A. Geyer, a Texas A&M University geophysicist

Elvers Bank - named for Douglas J. Elvers, a Minerals Management Service (now BOEM) ngeophysicist

McGrail Bank (formerly 18 Fathom Bank) - named for David W. McGrail, a Texas A&M and U.S. Coast Guard oceanographer

Sonnier Bank (formerly Three Hickey Rocks or Candy Mountain) - named for Farley Sonnier, an offshore wildlife photographer from Louisiana

Bouma Bank - named for Arnold H. Bouma, a Louisiana State University (LSU) geologist

Rezak Bank - named for Richard Rezak, a Texas A&M University oceanographer

Sidner Bank - named for Bruce Sidner, a Texas A&M University geologist

Parker Bank - named for Frances L. Parker, an oceanographer from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Alderdice Bank - named for Robert Alderdice, founder of the Flower Garden Ocean Research Center (FGORC)