FLOWER GARDEN BANKS NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY, located in the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles off the Texas/Louisiana coast, is a relatively accessible dive destination for those of us with a pressing need to get underwater in an ocean. It’s a two-day boat dive, offering seven dives on reefs that top out at depths of about 60 to 70 feet. Aside from some wreck dives off South Padre Island, pretty much the only other local diving in Texas is in lakes and quarries.
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In terms of lushness or diversity it’s not the Caribbean – well, it is styled as “The Texas Caribbean” – but Flower Garden has excellent coral and marine life ranging from parrotfishes to Christmas tree worms, with the possibility of whale sharks and manta rays (a manta was sighted) passing by.
While a lot of coral reefs developed on the ruins of extinct volcanoes, Flower Gardens is built up salt domes pushed up from the sea floor.
In the four years I’ve lived in Houston, I done the trip three times, aiming for a fourth in late summer. Photos in this gallery represent all three past trips.
DIVING FLOWER GARDEN MEANS DIVING:
• The West Bank, a beautiful coral-laden reef hosting a nice diversity of fishes and invertebrates.
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• A drilling platform, always one of the best parts of going to Flower Garden. They are fantastic artificial reefs with zillions of fishes, sponges, algae, silky sharks, some corals settling in around their complex structure of piling and crossbeams.
• The East Bank, another terrific coral reef.
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• Stetson Bank, where the water temperatures are cool enough to keep coral from forming in normal tropical reef populations but not cool enough to prevent the parrotfishes, shrimps, oysters and other varieties of marine life from settling.
The result at Stetson is a landscape often compared to the surface of the moon (I thought about it as resembling some of the rock formations I’ve seen at Cape Ann, in Mass.). Actually, without the visual chaos of corals and dense algae, lots of life was visible. A great diving experience!