Are you a seasoned diver and want to see beautiful corals without having to go to the Caribbean? The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in Texas is the place for you to go. The three coral reefs in this sanctuary are the northmost reefs on the North American shelf. where you can have a amazing experience of flower gardens diving.
In these reefs, you will bathe in the cobalt-blue warm water generated from the Gulf Stream. What awaits you under the water surface is an absolute visual paradise!
What is Flower Gardens Diving?
Flower gardens diving means going on an underwater diving adventure at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. It is one of the most exquisite experiences that divers can have. This is due to the clarity and beauty of the underwater world that is preserved at the sanctuary.
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is one of the 14 National Marine Sanctuaries protected by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of NOAA. It is the only marine sanctuary that is located in the Gulf of Mexico.
The underwater communities that are found in the Flower Garden rise to the three underwater salt domes. They come from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico and are undisturbed by human and industrial contact. This is because the reef is situated 70 to 115 miles off the coast of Louisiana and Texas.
The sanctuary is divided into three reefs – The East Flower Garden Bank, The West Flower Garden Bank, and the Stetson Bank.
The East and the West Flower Garden Banks cover coral cap areas of about 250 acres and 100 acres, respectively. The Stetson bank is smaller and later added to the sanctuary. It is a siltstone-based reef that is set 30 miles away from the West Flower Bank.
Things You Should Know Before Going for Flower Gardens Diving
Given below are certain things that you should keep in mind before you go to have this mesmerizing experience. Keep them in mind while planning your wholesome trip.
Best Time to Go
The hammerhead season, i.e., the winter season that ranges from February to May, is the best. You should plan your weekend visits to this place during these months since the hammerhead sightings drop down in April. The water temperature in this season ranges from the 60s to 70s, and the visibility is about 30 to 60 feet.
The summer season is good too. It runs from June to late October, and trips are only operational from Monday to Wednesday. The water temperature in summer ranges from low to mid-80s. The visibility increases to about 75 to 100 feet.
Only two operators can help you carry out your Flower Garden Diving trip. They are – Fling Charters and Texas Bluewater Safaris.
The former runs two- to three-day trips in summers along with the winter weekend trips. The latter runs the four-pax charters, two-day Flower Garden Banks, and one-day Stetson Bank trips.
You can choose the right operator for you in accordance with the kind of and the duration of the experience you wish to have there. Both are exemplary service providers.
The depth of most reefs in The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is about 55 to 65 feet. This is great since this means that you can view the entire bed paired with the visibility length.
The clarity of water and reefs is such that you can look above yourself and see sunlight penetrating the water. Such depth is perfect for any diving equipment as the water pressure at 65 feet under is not too much for most medium level equipment to handle.
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary operates on Central Time. This is necessary to know while going diving in the winter season as the time restrictions are strict.
The kind of diving experience you’re going to have at The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is advanced. You cannot go inside the water, not knowing what to do when a school of fish swims past you or a hammerhead swim near you.
The surface conditions and currents here can also be unpredictable. Since this place is so far away from land, it is only suitable for intermediate to advanced divers.
The pricing of each trip varies on the number of days you’ll be spending there. It also depends on the number of dives and the days of the week you will be visiting. On average, summer trips cost most than winter trips. However, winter trips have more to offer.
Each trip’s total cost is not cheap; however, the experience will be worth every penny.
Composition of the Flower Garden Banks
The coral caps that are included in The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary are delightful. They host over 20 species and hard corals along with over 300 species of fish. You can also find over 800 species of mollusks, echinoderms, sponges, and crustaceans inside the warm water.
Since the nearest land interaction from these reefs is 400 miles away, the coral life here is untouched. It is a striking oasis of inexhaustible tropical marine life.
The crests of each bank are composed of dense star and brain corals. The off-tourist radar reefs are near pristine and very sustainable. The health of this ecosystem is exceptional. So much so that their healthy growth has allowed covering about 51% of the bed in live coral.
You will be able to see lovely boulders of coral atop each other. Together they form the most beautiful seascape. The reefs are a great place to witness marine life in its purest form. The kind of fishes you will be able to see there is mesmerizing.
The smaller reefs like the ones in Stetson Bank are the healthiest in the Western Hemisphere. To witness, this is truly astounding. Visual memories of these reefs will forever be etched in your memory.
Best Flower Gardens Diving Sites
The diving sites are divided into different sections of the sanctuary. Each section provides a myriad of visual pleasures and beauty.
East and West Flower Garden Banks
Under the depth of about 65 feet into these flower garden banks, you will locate giant boulders covered in live star coral and brain coral polyps. For about 100 feet or so, all that is visible are these numerous coral heads that are occasionally studded with orange and yellow sponges.
You’ll witness schools of creole fish swinging around the parrotfish, Spanish hogfish, and rock beauties that meander around the coral. Sighting of barracuda, reef butterflyfish, yellowhead jawfish, tilefish, and peacock flounders is not uncommon.
Larger aquatic animals such as loggerhead turtles, manta rays, and silky sharks are also found here. Massive squadrons of spotted eagle rays and schools of scalloped hammerheads are visible in the winter months. Sporadic sightings of white sharks are possible in the summer months.
Stetson Bank is the scantiest of the reef banks at the sanctuary, with about 36 acres of reef top. However, it is equivalent to paradise since, in this small region, you can witness thrilling marine life being magnetized. Sandbar Sharks, whale sharks, and manta rays are fairly common, to name a few.
Stetson bank touts siltstone pinnacles that are embedded with fire coral and sponges. These coral beds are home to arrow crabs, spiny oysters, and a massive variety of other invertebrates.
The ten-rays star coral near Buoy #3 is called The Sierra Madracis formation. It is the most stunning display of coral life in the entire sanctuary.
Some trips to The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary include platform trips. These dives are done near the energy platform that is located near the East Flower Garden. This place, too, houses several small species of aquatic life that can not be seen in other coral reefs.
The metal structures here are covered in white hydroids, coral anemones, and colorful blennies. Schools of silky sharks and loggerhead turtles are seen feasting on sponges or circling the platform. Cocoa damselfish, butterflyfish, and angelfish are also attracted to the platform. They can be seen fluttering near the sponge-filled colorful structures.
If you are a seasoned diver and want to feast your eyes with aquatic life, flower gardens diving is a good idea. This sanctuary is heaven for marine life enthusiasts as the ecosystem is completely untouched and healthy.
If you like the thrill of underwater diving and enjoy the aquatic wonders of nature, be sure to check out flower gardens diving. Plan a trip with either of the two operators, and you will surely have the best diving experiences of your life.