Headline for Featured Item #1 Marine Science Graduate Students Dive Flower Garden Banks - Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
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Marine Science Graduate Students Dive Flower Garden Banks

August 15, 2012

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Graduate students in the Marine Science program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi received a close-up look at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary last week during a five-day cruise with scientists from the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

The sanctuary, which lies approximately 100 miles off the Texas coast, is a series of coral topped submerged banks that are the northern most coral reefs in North America. They are also some of the healthiest, with a higher percentage of living coral coverage than any other reefs in the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea.

According to Dr. Larry McKinney, HRI executive director and chief scientist for the cruise, the purpose of the annual expedition was to remind graduate students why they are working on their master’s and doctoral degrees. He said that, with the students spending so much time with their heads buried in books, it helps for them to see one of the natural wonders of the Gulf of Mexico before they move on to their future careers.

“We want to give our graduate students the opportunity to see a healthy bank first-hand and to provide interaction with leading marine researchers and experts,” stated McKinney. “For us at the HRI, it is really invigorating to be around these young folks. Their enthusiasm charges us up for the whole year.”

Experts from the National Marine Sanctuary Program, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation and several nongovernmental conservation organizations were aboard to share their knowledge during the cruise. The students were also accompanied on dives by several marine scientists, including Dr. Sylvia Earle, one of the world's leading ocean explorers and ocean advocates.

“There is nothing more exciting for me than to be in the ocean with students like those at HRI,” said Earle, who is a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. “They will be the leaders and scientists in whose hands we will be entrusting the oceans’ future.”

While most of the cruise had an educational purpose, according to Dr. McKinney, it was also a fun experience, especially for those who were making their first voyage to the sanctuary. The cruise was timed, he said, to coincide with the coral spawn, a special event that occurs just once each year during the first full moon of August.

“Diving in the Flower Gardens is a great experience,” he said. “In addition to getting to see all the coral in the reef spawn at one time, we saw whale sharks, manta rays, and lots of turtles. And, it was a thrill for the students to get to dive with Dr. Earle, one of the world’s great ocean explorers.”

Spawning coral monitored for effects of climate change.

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