What Lies Beyond
I am often curious, and so is this city and all its curiosities fascinate me, which is why I keep returning to this island to be one of its year-round residents. Texas A&M University at Galveston initially drew me here, to study the ocean, and now I live and work here, to protect the ocean. What I help protect is prettier than any other underwater place in the wider Atlantic Basin, which is really big and includes our Gulf of Mexico. I know this because of data and personal experience. With a few thousand scuba dives logged and a couple of full passports, I confidently report that no place is better than Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, if you’re the curious type of person who digs corals and thriving coral reefs. (Caveat for fellow fish nerds – fish biodiversity is low and so I have additional locations for you elsewhere.)
These days, so many coral reefs seem to be in peril. Several times during my career, I experienced the feeling of traumatic loss while working in the underwater environment. The threats are real and imminent. Yet, about 100 miles offshore is the healthiest coral reef I have seen anywhere on this side of the globe, and it’s the Gulf of Mexico’s only national marine sanctuary. It’s a magical place, where underwater you can swim with manta rays, whale sharks, sea turtles, and colorful fish. The water is often a deep blue color, and sometimes the visibility is so good that you can look up from a dive at 100 feet beneath the ocean, and see the boat. Coral cover (i.e., the amount of coral alive down there) is a measurement that scientists use to assess the health of coral reefs. While most coral reefs worldwide are declining in coral cover, there are signs that coral cover may be increasing in some portions of the Flower Garden Banks, which is almost unheard of! Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary has both shallow coral reefs and mesophotic (i.e., deeper water) reefs, with new species being discovered with underwater explorations via remotely operated vehicles. Some dive sites out there, while deeper than many diving sites in the Caribbean, are still shallow enough for experienced, recreational scuba divers to enjoy. Our island’s only dive shop, Texas Scuba Adventures in downtown Galveston, can hook you up with certification classes and dive trips. If you’re not inclined to put your head below the ocean’s surface, feed your curiosity via videos and pictures (https://flowergarden.noaa. gov/). Or check out some of the outdoor educational amenities along the seawall focused on Flower Garden Banks such as Project Sit benches (https://www.artistboat.org/projectsit/), panels located at Fort Crockett Park, or the giant sea turtle mural (https://seaturtles.org/ campaigns/turtles-abouttown/). Go explore, get curious.