flower gardens

This beautiful 40,000-gallon exhibit provides a window into an actual coral reef located more than 200 miles east, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Named for the colorful Caribbean species that call it home, Flower Gardens is essentially an underwater national park, providing a federally-protected habitat for angelfish, groupers, porcupinefish, and countless other marine species. This oasis of life in the Gulf of Mexico was originally formed millions of years ago when a salt deposit in the ocean floor was pushed up, creating a salt dome that extended closer to the ocean surface. This newly-formed habitat soaked up newly available sunlight, creating an environment where reef coral and other aquatic species thrived.

In our Flower Gardens exhibit, you can see many of the marine sanctuary’s native species coexisting among the vibrant coral environment. The real-life Flower Gardens is a mecca for scuba divers, and you can see our own scuba diver feeding our Flower Gardens fish during the daily Diver in the Water presentations (held September through April.)

In this exhibit, learn how the Flower Gardens sanctuary received federal protection because of harmful human activities like anchoring and mooring, boat discharges, fishing, and contact with marine mammals and turtles, and discover the threats that Flower Gardens and other reefs still face to this day.

animals in this exhibit

  • Porcupinefish


    Commonly called a pufferfish, this species can inflate its body by swallowing air or water, deterring predators from trying to eat it. Its sharp spines offer another line of defense.

  • Blue Parrotfish


    The parrotfish's large beak used to scrape algae and other organisms from rocks and hard coral.

  • Cownose Ray


    These rays are found throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean sea, and can grow up to 45 inches in width and weight 50 pounds or more. When threatened it can use a barb containing a toxin in its tail to defend itself.

  • Queen Angelfish


    This vibrant fish is found in warmer waters of the Atlantic ocean. In the wild it feed most on sponges, but its diet can also include jellyfish, corals, plankton, and algae.

  • Porkfish


    The porkfish is a species of grunt native to the western Atlantic ocean. Porkfish are primarily nocturnal predators, going after prey residing on the ocean floor.

  • Unicorn Filefish


    Also known as the unicorn leatherjacket, this fish can be found at depth as deep as 50 meters. They are commonly found around reefs, and feed on invertebrates and algae.