Citizen Science in the Sanctuary

A diver writing on a clipboard while swimming across the reef
Fish surveys are one of the ways recreational divers can contribute scientific data to the sanctuary (Image: G.P. Schmahl/FGBNMS)

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen science refers to voluntary public participation in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems. This may include conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and making new discoveries.

Due to the remote location of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, sanctuary staff are limited in how often they can visit and collect data. Citizen scientists can help us fill in the gaps by telling us about their visits, including general observations about the health of the reefs and the types of wildlife they see there.

Be a Citizen Scientist!

If you visit Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary for fishing, diving, or simply on your way to somewhere else, you can tell us about what you see in a variety of ways.

1. Share Your Photographs through iNaturalist

Photos of wildlife viewed above and below the water's surface can let us know what is out there, even when we aren't. You can upload those photos through iNaturalist, an online app for sharing biodiversity information. The app will help you identify what you saw and provide us with sighting information at the same time. It's a great way to learn to identify all those cool fish and invertebrates that capture your attention!

Hundreds of creolefish swarming over a section of reef with the statement Are You Up for the Challenge? across the top. City Nature Challenge 2024 and sanctuary logos at the bottom.
Consider participating in the City Nature Challenge bioblitz in April. (Image: FGBNMS)

iNaturalist is also a key tool for the worldwide bioblitz called City Nature Challenge, which takes place every April. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is part of the Houston/Galveston City Region for that event, and species photos from the sanctuary can really boost our regional totals. Houston/Galveston regularly places in the top five in the world for this event. Your entries can keep us competitive!

City Nature Challenge: April 26-29, 2024. Divers booked on the April 26-28, 2024 Weekend Flower Garden Tour through Texas Caribbean Charters, may submit any photos from that trip as part of the City Nature Challenge.

2. Conduct REEF Fish Surveys

Surveys of the species and quantities of fish that you see in the sanctuary help us understand more about seasonal fluctuations and alert us to new sightings. Any diver or snorkeler can conduct a survey by participating in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project created by Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). The only materials you need are an underwater slate and pencil, a good reference book, and access to the internet to submit the data online.

Introductory slide for the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Fish Identifciation Curriculum for the Flower Garden Banks, with a background of sanctuary fish on the reef.
Fish ID classes focus on the top 50 fish of the Tropical Western Atlantic that divers are likely to see in the sanctuary. (Image: REEF/FGBNMS)

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary offers Fish ID classes a couple of times each year to help with this process. Our classes focus on the top 50 fish you are likely to see in the sanctuary. We provide information on body shapes, key markings and coloration, and helpful phrases for remembering them, using the REEF curriculum created especially for this little subset of the Caribbean.

ABCs of Fish ID:

Tuesday, March 26, 2024, 6-9 p.m. at Penny's Beer Garden in Dickinson, TX.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024, 6-9 p.m. at Texas Scuba Adventures in Galveston, TX.

Please email if you would like to attend, and be sure to specify which date.

3. Report Your Observations

Please tell us about your visit and any interesting observations you made by emailing us at

Was something spawning? Did you see any sharks, rays, or sea turtles? Was there any coral bleaching? Were fish acting strangely? Did something not look quite right? Did you see a bird or a whale at the surface? Sanctuary staff want to know.

Collage of corals and sponges spawning, a shark, a bird, and  grouper with odd coloration, overlaid with Report Observations.
If you saw something interesting, we want to know about it. (Image: FGBNMS)

Be a superhero for science! Submit your photos, do a survey, or just report your observations. Every little bit helps.