For divers off the Texas coast, a curtain opens on cast of extraordinary coral-reef creatures
Editor’s Note: Writer and traveler Melissa Gaskill participated in the Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s coral reef expedition for educators, Down Under Out Yonder, in July 2011, and wrote the following article about her experience for Texas Co-op Power magazine.
December 2011 - GULF OF MEXICO - A blue and yellow fish the size of my index finger darts across the dimpled surface of a pale green coral sphere. A school of brown chromis, four inches long with fins that seem to have been dipped in yellow, circle us, and a French angelfish the diameter of a dinner plate cruises past. My scuba diving buddy Jacqueline Stanley points at what appears to be a black marble with yellow spots hovering above the coral. I look closer and discern a tiny snout and tail; the swimming marble is a juvenile smooth trunkfish, one of the smallest denizens of the coral reef, and not easy to find. We give each other an underwater high-five and fin away to gawk at dozens of other creatures that inhabit this thriving coral reef.
While it might sound like we’re deep in the Caribbean, Stanley and I are actually 100 miles off the Texas coast. Here, a piece of beneath-the-surface tropical paradise called the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary flourishes where salt domes on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico rise close enough to the surface to support coral reefs. These reefs probably originated more than 10,000 years ago when baby coral organisms, called polyps, floated on currents from reefs off Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, about 400 miles away.