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Flower Garden Banks

Photo Credit: TAMU-CC, Center for Coastal Studies
From: Rezak et al., 1985; Gardener et al.,1998; NOAA, 2002

The Flower Garden Banks (East and West) are two prominent geological features on the edge of the outer continental shelf in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, approximately 192 km southeast of Galveston, Texas. Fishermen gave the Flower Garden Banks their name because they could see the bright colors of the reef from the surface and pulled the brightly colored corals and sponges up on their lines and in their nets. They are two of the least disturbed coral reefs in the Caribbean and western Atlantic and among the few reefs anywhere that can be considered nearly pristine. Together with the Stetson Bank, they are the northernmost coral reefs on the continental shelf of North America.

The East and West Flower Garden Banks were designated as the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) in January 1992. The Flower Garden Banks are home to a wide array of marine life, including numerous species of rays and sharks, sea turtles and marine mammals. Over 170 species of fish and approximately 300 species of reef invertebrates inhabit the banks. These include at least 27 species of sponges, 20 species of polychaetes, 62 species of molluscs and 36 species of echinoderms. Other marine life residents at the banks include turtles, manta rays and sharks. The salt domes underlying these banks have furnished the framework for coral reef development, as well as providing a reservoir for oil and gas resources. Within a four-mile radius of the Flower Garden Banks, there are currently 10 production platforms.

Specific data, coordinates and characteristics for each bank are given on their respective pages (East Flower Garden Bank and West Flower Garden Bank).

Flower Garden Banks

Location on Continental Shelf:   Outer-Shelf Bank
Coordinates:   27.92° N   93.71° W
Nearest Largest City:   Galveston, Texas, USA

Selected Characteristics:
Area of Coverage:   143 km2
Minimum Depth:   18 m
Maximum Depth:   130 m
Minimum Temperature:   20oC
Maximum Temperature:   30oC
Minimum Salinity:   31 ppt
Maximum Salinity:   36 ppt

Community Structure:
Structurally, the Flower Garden Banks coral reefs are composed of large, closely-spaced heads up to three or more meters in diameter and height. The reefs here seem to be most closely linked biologically to reefs in the southern Gulf of Mexico. Reef topography is rough with many vertical and inclined surfaces. Coral cover averages 47% and is frequently cavernous. Other prominent benthic components include coralline algae covered rocks, leafy and filamentous algae and sponges, with sand at the bottom. Dominant coral species are the boulder star coral (Montastrea annularis), symmetric brain coral (Diploria strigosa), mustard hill (Porites astreoides) coral and the great star coral (Montastrea cavernosa). Algal populations have historically been low, but blue-green algae are becoming abundant and invading open space on coral heads. Recently, a red or blue green turf algal mat was observed. In spite of their northern location, the abundance and growth rates of hermatypic corals are similar to those on Caribbean reefs. The absence of shallow-water alcyonarians at the Flower Gardens, however, sets these reefs apart from all other Atlantic coral reef communities.

Geological Characterization:
The Flower Garden Banks are the surface expression of salt diapers capped by living coral reefs. The two Banks are salt domes of different ages, with the West being much older than the East Bank.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. 2003. URL:

Gardener, J.V., L.A. Mayer, J.E.H. Clarke and A. Kleiner. 1998. High-Resolution Multibeam Bathymetry of East and West Flowe Gardens and Stetson Banks, Gulf of Mexico. Gulf of Mexico Science XVI No. 2:128.

NOAA.2002. The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States. URL:

Rezak, R., T.J. Bright and D.W. McGrail. 1985. Reefs and Banks of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico: Their geological, biological, and physical dynamics. Wiley, New York, NY, USA, 259 p.

Additional Information:
National Marine Sanctuaries
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
Gulf of Mexico Region - Environmental Information
GEMS - Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
The National Marine Sanctuaries

Keywords:   Ray, Shark, Turtle, Coral, Reef, Bank, Salt dome, Oil and gas

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