DIVING FLOWER GARDEN BANKS NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY, is a spectacular experience, one of the U.S.’s under-appreciated gems. A pair of totally underwater salt domes in the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 miles off the Texas/Louisiana coast, would seem an unlikely place to find a rich coral reef.
But as a two-day liveaboard boat dive, it’s a relatively accessible dive destination for those of us in Texas with a pressing need to get underwater in an ocean. The trip offers seven dives on reefs that top out at depths of about 60 to 70 feet.
While a lot of coral reefs developed on the ruins of extinct volcanoes, Flower Gardens is built up atop salt domes pushed up from the sea floor. In terms of lushness or diversity it’s not the Caribbean – well, it is styled as “The Texas Caribbean.”
Flower Garden has excellent coral and marine life ranging from parrotfishes to Christmas tree worms, with the possibility of whale sharks and manta rays passing by. One of the highlights of my dive career was my 20-minute dance with a lady manta on my last visit there.
DIVING FLOWER GARDEN BANKS MEANS THE OPPORTUNITY TO DIVE:
• The West Bank, a beautiful coral-laden reef hosting a nice diversity of fishes and invertebrates.
• An oil or gas 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.
• 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!