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.

The Texas State Aquarium has formally partnered with Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Aquarium-Sanctuary Partnerships for America’s Keystone Wildlife Project supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Priority interventions include fish and coral recovery, invasive species and marine debris removal, sea turtle rehabilitation, and mooring buoys that deter boats from anchoring on reefs. 

On January 19, 2021, national conservation groups and aquarium partners celebrated the expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary,  announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The expansion increases protections within the Gulf of Mexico’s only national marine sanctuary from 56 square miles to 160 square miles and includes 14 critical reefs and banks.

This expansion means increased protections for important species and habitats. The expansion areas will be home to future conservation work and support resource protection, science and research, recreation and stewardship for local communities and the country. In particular, the sanctuary’s expansion provides an excellent opportunity to: 

  • further explore the wonders of our ocean;
  • study healthy reefs, especially as potential sites to seed and restore future reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean;
  • better understand resilient ecosystems in the face of changing climate and pollution; and
  • connect families and children with our ocean and build stewards through conservation expeditions, conservation programs, and exhibits and outreach.

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.