The Gulf of Mexico is home to a vast number of unique species and beautiful surprises. Off the coast of Galveston, near Houston, Texas, is a natural coral reef that is so incredible, you'd never have expected it to find it there. The Flower Garden Banks is an extraordinary spot filled with wildlife, coral, and crystal clear water, and you can actually visit it!

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is one of NOAA's national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments that can be found near the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

The majestic natural area lies about 70 to 115 miles off the nearest coasts, making it far from the busy stretches of beach, but not far enough that you couldn't find it.

The Flower Garden Banks sanctuary has survived for over 10,000 to 15,000 years on top of underwater salt domes, which are mountains of salt that burst through the Earth's surface and can house sealife communities.

The sanctuary consists of three unique areas, to include the East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank, and Stetson Bank.

Each area is home to a vast number of underwater species and vibrant coral that will leave you speechless. The reefs are full of life and color, and will hopefully be expanded on in the near future.

NOAA has proposed an expansion on the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to make it go from 56 square miles to a whopping 160 square miles to add 14 new reefs and banks.

You can actually take a dive at these incredible banks off the Texas coast, for there are several commercial dive and fishing charter companies that will drive you out to the sanctuary so you can see the beauty all for yourself!

You will get to dive down into the crystal blue waters to see an abundance of wildlife, intricate coral structures, and natural underwater infrastructure. Keep an eye out for the several barracuda that tend to watch approaching divers.

The most popular fish you can find in these crystal waters are bluehead and yellowhead wrasses, chromis, creolefish, and damselfish. You can also spot some butterflyfish, parrotfish, pufferfish, eels, crab, and shrimp.

Before you head out on a tropical adventure under the sea, you'll have to do a bit of research and reading on the NOAA website to make sure everything goes smoothly.

You can also take a visual tour of East and West Flower Garden Banks to get a sense of what you'll find once you arrive.

Please be mindful of the area and help keep our Gulf of Mexico properly preserved!

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Price: Varies

Address: Gulf of Mexico, off of Galveston

Why You Need To Go: This natural preserve will give you insight into the magical world that lies under the water near your home.

We strongly advise that before you go swimming or visit any location, you check the most recent updates on potential hazards, security, water quality, and closures. If you do plan to visit a location, respect the environment.