A manta ray

Photos: G.P. Schmahl/NOAA

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Map showing the location of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Location: Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Texas and Louisiana

Size: 56 square miles

Designated: 1992 (Stetson Bank added 1996)

Habitat: Coral reefs, algal-sponge communities, sand and mud flats, mesophotic reefs, open ocean

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Photos: G.P. Schmahl/NOAA

When fishermen off the coast of Texas looked down at the coral reefs below in the early 1900s, they were reminded of their gardens back home. Thus, the Flower Garden Banks got their name. Today, these coral reefs include some of the healthiest coral in the world, and are protected by Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Seventy to 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank, and Stetson Bank emerge from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. These reefs are built on small underwater mountains called salt domes. They rise 200 to 500 feet from the seafloor, separated from each other by miles of open ocean. The tops of the banks are covered by gardens of coral, sponges, and algae that provide habitat for a variety of tropical wildlife.

These reefs offer excellent opportunities for experienced divers. Visitors can see a variety of shallowwater Caribbean reef fish and invertebrates, as well as coral heads bigger than cars. Lucky divers may even see manta rays, sea turtles, and whale sharks!

Not a diver? You can still experience the magic of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary at the Texas State Aquarium, Tennessee Aquarium, and the Aquarium at Moody Gardens.