Coral Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico

Coral Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico

The Coral Fishery Management Plan (FMP) developed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council describes the coral communities throughout the jurisdictions of the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils.

Management measures of the plan prohibit the harvest of stony coral and seafans except by scientific permit. It also establishes Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) in the Gulf and Atlantic where the use of any fishing gear interfacing with the bottom is prohibited. Additionally, the FMP regulates the use of chemicals used by fish collectors near coral reefs and establishes a data reporting system for permit holders.


Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located approximately 100 miles south of the Texas-Louisiana border in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, contains some of the northernmost coral reefs on the continental shelf of North America and consists of three geographically separate underwater features - the East and West Flower Garden Banks, and Stetson Bank.

  • East and West Flower Garden Banks

    The coral reefs of the East and West Flower Garden Banks are presently in good condition, compared to most other reef systems of the Caribbean and western Atlantic. Over 20 years of long-term coral reef monitoring at the East and West Flower Garden banks indicates that the reefs have maintained approximately 50% - 70% coral coverage within the coral zone - an extraordinary coverage in a global climate of coral reef decline. The reefs are dominated by extremely large boulder corals. The coral cap ranges in depths from 17 to 49 m and covers an area of approximately .55 square miles.
  • Stetson Bank

    Stetson Bank, also part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, is a colorful, geologically exciting feature, dominated by sponges, several species of corals, and algae.

McGrail Bank, also located in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico approximately 53nm east of the Flower Garden Banks, harbors a unique, deep coral reef, dominated primarily by large boulders of blushing star coral.


Pulley Ridge is a 100+ km-long series of N-S trending, drowned, barrier islands on the southwest Florida Shelf approximately 250 km west of Cape Sable, Florida. The ridge is a subtle feature about 5 km across with less than 10 m of relief, its shallowest parts are about 60 m deep. Surprisingly at this depth, the southern portion of the ridge hosts an unusual variety of zooxanthellate scleractinian corals, green, red and brown macro algae, and typically shallow-water tropical fishes.


Tortugas Ecological Reserve is the most extensive living coral reef in the United States. Adjacent to the 126 mile island chain of the Florida Keys, these coral reefs are intimately linked to a marine ecosystem that supports one of the most unique and diverse assemblages of plants and animals in North America. The 2,800 square nautical mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) surrounds the entire archipelago of the Florida Keys and includes the productive waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Click here for map/coordinates of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve.


Florida Middle Grounds is a broad carbonate platform that occurs some 137 km offshore along the northeastern Gulf of Mexico in an area generally known as the West Florida Shelf. Its formation suggests that it is a relict coral-reef complex that has morphological similarities to modern patch-reef complexes. It is the most extensive area of high relief (> 2 m) hardbottom in the northeastern Gulf in less than 60 m depth. The faunal assemblage is distinctly tropical, with a stony coral-gorgonian-sponge dominated community considered the furthest north “coral reef” on the North American continental shelf.

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