school of fish in background
Skip to page Header home about your sanctuary visiting your sanctuary education science management news and events protecting resources image library document library Get Involved advisory council NOAA logo - a circle with a stylized seabird in flight; background is dark blue above the bird and light blue below the bird.

blank spaceFind us on Facebook

     Follow @fgbnms on Twitter



Skip to Main Content
Science Home    Research    Monitoring   
Habitat Characterization    Tools & Technology
Science Reports    Research Publications

Two-toned blue dashed line

August 18-21, 2011
aboard the R/V MANTA


The Flower Garden Banks research team, along with researchers from the University of Texas (UT) and the Navy Research Laboratory (NRL), conducted a successful cruise to document the annual coral spawning event at the Sanctuary. This cruise was funded by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

Diver running a tape measure across the reef while navigating to a particular spot.
A diver navigates to the deeper area of East Flower Garden Bank where additional temperature sensors are located. Photo: FGBNMS/Embesi

Researchers from UT collected coral fragments from four different coral species, including the invasive Tubastrea species, for genetic analysis. In addition, they collected coral spawn from a variety of species for laboratory experiments.

Researchers from the NRL collected data on current movement around the Banks using Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), and a vertical microstructure profiler (VMP). In addition, the NRL collected Bio-Acoustic data that showed the coral spawning event had a unique acoustic signature.

Divers changing out water quality instruments at an underwater station. An inflated lift bag rests on the sand nearby.
Divers change out the water quality monitoring instruments at East Flower Garden Bank. Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

In addition to collecting data on the timing of difference species spawning, the Flower Garden Banks research team also collected quarterly water samples, conducted maintenance on water quality instruments and acoustic receivers at each of the Banks, and installed new mooring buoys.

Both the M/V Spree and the M/V Fling were on site with recreational scuba divers to observe the annual coral spawning event.


R/V Manta crew

  • Captain Darrell Walker
  • Captain Mike Shetler
  • Julia O'Hern
  • Kayleigh Stansel

Sanctuary research team

  • Ryan Eckert
  • John Embesi
  • Marissa Nuttall

Naval Research Laboratory

  • Eva Jarosz
  • Andrew Quaid

University of Texas

  • Sarah Davies
  • Dr. Mikhail Matz
  • Eli Meyer

top of page

Daytime Activities

Researchers from the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary spent time changing out water quality monitoring instruments at each bank, including those located in the deeper area of East Flower Garden Bank. They also changed out acoustic receivers located at each bank.

A diver grasping something on the reef while working.
A diver changes out the temperature sensors at one of the deep stations. Photo: FGBNMS/Embesi

These monitoring instruments are anchored to a heavy railroad wheel in a sand patch at each bank, which, following Hurricane Ike in 2008, had become buried in the sand. Divers lifted these railroad wheels out and re-positioned them on top of the sand at each location.

A heavy railroad wheel being lifted from the sand by a lift bag as a diver watches from a safe distance.
A NOAA Working Diver coordinates lifting the railroad wheel out of the sand at East Flower Garden Bank.
Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

A railroad wheel resting on top of the sand with water quality instruments attached.
The railroad wheel at East Bank, with water quality instruments attached, after being lifted into its new position.
Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

top of page

Time was also spent removing debris from an old research station at East Flower Garden Bank...

Rolls of fencing lying on a sand flat underwater.
These rolls of chain link fencing are the remains of a previous research project in the sanctuary.
Photo: FGBNMS/Embesi

A diver filling a lift bag being used to lift heavy debris off the seafloor.
A NOAA Working Diver fills the lift bag used to lift chain link fencing off the reef and up to the surface, to be collected by
the R/V Manta.
Photo: FGBNMS/Nuttall

installing new mooring buoys...

A mooring buoy sitting on the floor of a rigid hull inflatable boat.
This mooring buoy was installed at East Flower Garden Bank. Mooring buoys are provided so that vessels visiting the sanctuary do not anchor on the reef. Photo: FGBNMS/Embesi

...and opportunistic Lionfish hunting.

top of page

Linus, a lionfish captured in the sanctuary on an earlier trip.
Photo: FGBNMS/Embesi

While working at the West Bank, divers encountered a friendly male Whale Shark. The shark swam with divers and snorkelers for almost an hour, allowing researchers to measure and tag it. The shark measured in at 6m from head to tail, and was tagged with a Pop-up Archival Tag (PAT), courtesy of Dr. Eric Hoffmayer.

Whale shark swimming directly toward the camera with snorkelervisible in the background
A snorkeler observes and swims with a 6 meter long
Whale shark.
Photo: FGBNMS/Nuttall

This tag will track the sharks movement over the next 5 months, then pop-off the shark and transmit its data back to the scientists via satellite. Divers nicknamed the shark “Lucky 7’s” since its tag number included “777”.

top of page

Whale shark swimming in open water above a reef
A male Whale Shark circled divers at West Flower Garden Bank. Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

Researchers from the NRL conducted Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) surveys during day time operations and ran vertical microstructure profiler (VMP) surveys early in the morning, while diving operations were complete for the day.

2010 Spawning Observations

On Friday night (Aug 19th, 2011), a few colonies of Orbicella (Montastraea) franksi, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Montastraea cavernosa, and  Stephanocoenia intersepta were observed spawning, along with ruby red brittle stars.

A round colony of star coral spawning underwater.
An Orbicella (Montastraea) franksi colony spawning.
Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

Coral spawn looks like small white dots rising up from a coral reef.
Spawn fills the water column as the evening continues. Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

top of page

On Saturday night (Aug 20th, 2011), researchers observed a spectacular spawning event with many colonies  of Orbicella (Montastraea) franksi, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Montastraea cavernosa, and  Stephanocoenia intersepta observed spawning.

A small colony of star coral spawning from on top of a colony of brain coral
An Orbicella (Montastraea) franksi colony spawns atop a colony of Pseudodiploria strigosa. Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

Spawning brain coral colony
A Pseudodiploria strigosa colony spawns.
Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

Ruby red brittle stars were also seen spawning, and Orbicella (Montastraea) faveolata was seen with gametes set, but not observed spawning.

top of page

A spiny urchin sitting atop a coral colony at night.
Many spiny sea urchins, Diadema antillarum, were observed about the reef at night. Photo: FGBNMS/Eckert

General Coral Spawning Information

For general information about the annual mass coral spawning event, please visit our Coral Spawning page.

For a summary from the 2010 spawning season, please use the link below:

2010 Coral Spawning

top of page

Two-toned blue dashed line

weather report observations cool stuff get wet

Orange, branching gorgonian (soft coral) anchored in a bed of sponges and other sea life.
National Marine Sanctuary logo - a stylized whale tail above waves