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How do sea floor features get their names? Some are named for their appearances or even their locations. But, in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, many of the features are named for people.

Bathymetry map of northwestern Gulf of Mexico showing various named bank features.
Click on this map to see a larger image

Following is a little bit of the history behind the following bank names:


Visitors gather around a volunteer talking about a coral core sample
Visitors learned about the people after whom we named local ocean features at Ocean Discovery Day 2013.


Alderdice Bank is named for Robert Alderdice, the founder and Deputy Director of programs of Flower Garden Ocean Research Center (FGORC) at the Marine Biomedical Institue of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX.

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. Image Courtesy of Rusty Putt.

The results of the research conducted by FGORC, including studies of reef communities below 150 meters, were published in the 1974 book Biota of the West Flower Garden Bank, which was edited by Thomas J. Bright and Linda H. Pequegnat.

Cover of book Biota of the West Flower Garden Bank

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Bright Bank is named for Tom Bright, 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, even in his retirement.

Tom Bright and GP Schmahl working photographing corals
Tom Bright (left) and G.P. Schmahl photographing
corals in March 2013

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Geyer Bank is named for Dick Geyer (1915-2002), a geophysicist at Texas A&M. As head of the university's Department of Oceanography from 1966-1980, he was known as the "grandfather of oceanography." While there, he served as series editor for the Texas A&M Oceanographics Studies series.

Cover of book Contributions on the Biology of the Gulf of Mexico

Dick Geyer was later awarded an Honorary Membership in the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), recognizing his contributions in both academics and industry.

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MacNeil Bank is named for F. Stearns MacNeil (1909-1983), a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who was well-known for his hypothesis that sea level variations were major factors in reef formation. MacNeil also did extensive geologic mapping of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico

USGS publication cover

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McGrail Bank is named for David McGrail (1944-1984), a Texas A&M and U.S. Coastguard oceanographer. McGrail worked closely with Dick Rezak and Tom Bright to explore the reefs and banks of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, resulting in several definitive publications on the subject.

Cover of book Reefs and Banks of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico

One of the most referenced of their publications is Reefs and Banks of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico, published in 1985 to share the results of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Topographic Features Study conducted in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

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Rankin Bank is named for John Rankin (1919-2011), the first Director of the Gulf of Mexico Region for the Minerals Management Service (now known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management), where he oversaw the sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico for more than 25 years. In 2000 Rankin was recognized as an Industry Pioneer of offshore resources by the Offshore Energy Center.

John Rankin
Image courtesy of Offshore Energy Center

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Sonnier Banks are named for Farley Sonnier (?-1987), a Louisiana lawyer and avid marine naturalist, who contributed his knowledge and photographs of offshore areas to several scientific studies. Over 300 of his images are included in the often used reference book Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, 2nd Edition published in 1998.

Cover of Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico

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Stetson Bank, added to the sanctuary in 1996, is named for Henry Stetson (1900-1955), a geological oceanographer with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). In 1953, Stetson was the first to identify the existence of corals on the salt domes of the Flower Garden Banks. This led to scuba explorations in the 1960s that verified the presence of the living coral reefs we know today.

Henry Stetson with water in the background
Henry Stetson aboard Atlantis in the Gulf of Mexico.
Image: Jan Hahn/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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Small, knobby corals in foreground; boulder of brain coral in background.  Long, fingery branches of purple sponge anchored in knobby corals and standing upright.
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