Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
There is really nothing else in the diving world like the travel program with the Women Divers Hall of Fame! Initiated in 2010, it has brought our sea-sister Members together to share what we all so fervently love – life underwater and comradeship on top, plus the singular opportunity of getting to know one another. We all have so very much in common!
Our most recent trip was a case in point: it brought many of our Members and Associates together who had never before been on the same dive trip! We made many, new close friends, and we shared some incredible diving, too. The chance to witness the annual mass coral spawning was the big draw, and we were so fortunate to have one of our Members, who is a genius at predicting the one night a year when we were most likely to “hit” it, and we did! What an astonishing adventure in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and only a boat-trip off shore from Texas. We had an onboard lesson in the types of coral likely to be spawning that evening and how to watch the polyps for signs of the release of this new life. The coral fields are vast, and when we jumped into the dark waters, the spawning was just beginning. For the entire hour plus we were underwater, we seemed to be in a snowstorm of this new cycle of life. We had a cumulative total of about 45,000 dives among us and none of us had ever experienced the lushness of this spawning!
The daylight dives were fascinating, too. The three seamounts are rich in life and the coral fields of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary are all at diveable depths, rarely exceeding 100 fsw, affording all of us many hours underwater. Even the snorkeling was fun – the visibility was good enough to enjoy the mantas, sharks, and turtles cruising by. The oil rigs were so rich in life, from the giant mantas to the nest-building sergeant majors to the teeny-tiny critters. The times down there went too quickly. The marine life was very tropical, and included angelfish, parrotfish, damselfish, barracuda, and huge schools of reef fish with the pelagics gliding outside. We even spied a lavender frogfish! To fully appreciate this trip and the pure magic of the coral spawn, see the film from Christine and Jonathan Bird’s show, Jonathan Bird’s Blue World - it best shows the adventure – access it through this site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsyav8H2Bec
The divers were a diverse lot. We had adventurers, scientists, a policewoman, a federal judge, military, videographers, filmmakers, photographers, and fun-lovers from all over the country and even abroad. The crew was very friendly and accommodating, demonstrating real Texas hospitality. The boat crew commented on the extraordinary group of divers the Women Divers Hall of Fame brought on board the R/V Fling. FGBNMS Research Coordinator, Emma Hickerson, who was inducted into WDHOF in 2014, invited the Members to the sanctuary so she could showcase the stunning reefs. The sanctuary, located 100 miles directly south of the Texas/Louisiana border in the Gulf of Mexico, harbors incredibly lush coral reefs and marine animals. We met for a welcome dinner at a restaurant in Freeport, Texas, before boarding the R/V Fling and traveled overnight out to the West Flower Garden Bank, where we woke up to beautiful conditions, flat seas, and great visibility. During the four-day trip, we offered 15 dives, covering all three banks within the sanctuary (Stetson Bank, East, and West Flower Garden Bank), HIA389A – the gas platform at the East Flower Garden Bank, and HI376A just outside the boundaries. The corals spawned, four mantas visited, and we encountered spotted eagle rays, hammerhead sharks, sandbar sharks, silky sharks, and even a tiger shark! New friendships were made, stunning sunsets shared, and spectacular stargazing enjoyed. This experience was generously co-sponsored by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Harte Research Institute. Emma noted, “It was truly a privilege to host this wonderful group of women (and some men!)”