West Flower Garden Bank

Bathymetric map of West Flower Garden Bank showing the sanctuary boundary, as well as other relevant management zones and infrastructure.
West Flower Garden Bank is located about 13 miles west of East Flower Garden Bank. Credit: FGBNMS

Depth Range: 56-545 feet (17-166 meters)

Distance from Land: 113 miles (182 km)

Area: 37 square miles (96 sq km)

West Flower Garden Bank, with two distinct reef crests and a channel running in between, is located 113 miles (182 km) south of the Texas/Louisiana border and approximately 13 miles west of East Flower Garden Bank. This is one of the two original banks that made up the sanctuary when it was first designated in 1992.

The original boundary for West Flower Garden Bank closely followed the outer edges of the BOEM No-Activity zone, but was later expanded to incorporate additional hard bottom features along the outer edges of the bank.

Coral Reefs

East and West Flower Garden Banks are best known for the beautiful coral reefs located on the shallowest areas of each bank. These are the northernmost coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, thriving at the northern limits of coral survival.

These are also the healthiest coral reefs in the greater Caribbean/Gulf region with over 52% coral cover, which is as much as 5 times the amount of hard coral as other reefs in the region. The corals have literally piled up on one another over thousands of years, creating high profile reefs that rise 15-20 feet (4.6-6.1 meters) above the nearest sand patches in some areas.

The dominant species here are brain and star corals, many of which are considered threatened species (OrbicellaI annularis, Orbicella faveolata, Orbicella franksi). These threatened species account for about 66% of the total coral cover at West Flower Garden Bank.

Large corals piled up together on a section of reef
Large star coral colonies cover much of the reef at West Flower Garden Bank. Photo: G.P. Schmahl/FGBNMS
Purple, red, and orange sponges interspersed between corals ona reef
Sponges are another important part of the coral reefs at West Flower Garden Bank and provide spots of color. Photo: G.P. Schmahl/FGBNMS

Although the reefs at East and West Flower Garden Banks are often discussed together, they are slightly different. Annual long-term monitoring efforts show slight variations in water temperature, salinity, turbidity, and circulation at West Flower Garden Bank compared to East Flower Garden Bank. There is also a much larger sand patch at the West bank.

Section of large corals in the foreground with a sandy area and more reef continuing in the background.
Near the edges of sand flats you may see sections of reef rising 15-20 feet above the sand. This is known as high-profile reef. Photo: Emma Hickerson/FGBNMS

Mesophotic Reefs

Below the reef cap lie deeper mesophotic habitats such as algal nodule zones, and deep coral zones that include populations of stony cup corals, black corals, and octocorals.

Solitary white coral with tentacles barely showing out the top
Small stony corals, like this solitary cup coral, are sometimes found in the mesophotic zone of West Flower Garden Bank. Photo: FGBNMS/UNCW-UVP
Yellow, orange, and red branching octocorals.
Many of the octocorals found on the deep reefs at West Flower Garden Bank are quite colorful. Photo: FGBNMS/UNCW-UVP
Green and white corals in the shape of bottle brushes standing upright on the reef

Green and white black corals shaped like bottle brushes are fairly common on the deep reefs of West Flower Garden Bank. Photo: FGBNMS/UNCW-UVP