FLOWER GARDENS BANKS NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY is nicknamed the “Texas Caribbean” due to its substantial tropical life. It’s the northernmost coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 miles off Galveston.
It’s a remarkable site — a good, easily accessible dive trip from East Texas for a weekend getaway. Diving on it involves a two-day boat trip on the M.V. Fling live-aboard out of Freeport, TX.
THREE DOMES, ONE POSSIBLY THREATENED
Currently (they are talking about about enlarging the sanctuary), Flower Gardens consists of three underwater salt dome structures — East and West Flower Garden Banks, which feature remarkable coral reefs, and Stetson Bank, which lacks significant coral due to cooler water temperatures.
Still, as a bare rock structure mostly supporting microalgae, Stetson hosts an amazing abundance of marine life, and easily findable life at that. Lacking coral or thick algae, there’s little camouflage.
On a trip in late July, there was good diving on the West Bank and Stetson. There was disturbing news about East Bank, and divers were being asked to avoid the area (see “Unsettling Developments on East Flower Gardens Bank” in accompanying post).
As a result, on the first day we did three dives on the West Bank, moved to Stetson and did a late afternoon and then night dive there (giving me my first five-dive day in 10 years). The second day, we did the normal two dives on Stetson.
Leaving aside strong currents at times and a sometimes choppy experience getting up the stern ladder, the diving was excellent, a night-dive on Stetson was a new experience, and the full array of underwater life was available.
FLOWER BANKS/STETSON BANKS DIVING A (ARROW CRABS) TO U (URCHINS, LOT OF THEM)