The Flower Garden Banks Coral Spawning | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

The Flower Garden Banks Coral Spawning | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD


This time on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World,
exploring seamounts in the Gulf of Mexico! Hi I’m Jonathan Bird and welcome to my world! The Gulf of Mexico. To many people, it conjures images of oil
platforms or maybe even oil spills. But this magnificent body of water is so much
more than a rich deposit of oil and gas reserves. There is warm, clear water containing lush
coral reefs, murky plankton-filled water with giants feeding on the plankton, and virtually
everything in between. The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin surrounded
by the United States, Mexico and Cuba. Though connected to the Caribbean, it is somewhat
isolated, and experiences rather small tidal changes. 100 miles off the coast of Texas, there are
three seamounts, rising up from the depths. Two of them are capped by lush coral reefs. These are the Flower Garden Banks, protected
by the United States government since 1992 as a National Marine Sanctuary. I have been fortunate enough to receive an
invitation from the Women Divers Hall of Fame to join their expedition to the Flower Garden
Banks. The trip was planned during the week following
the full moon in the hopes of observing the coral spawn. I board the Fling, a dive boat based in Texas
that routinely visits the Flower Garden Banks. Captain Bland is at the helm as we set a course
for the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary! And while the Gulf is infamous for rough seas,
we got lucky today. The water is flat calm, and a trio of Bottlenosed
dolphins have joined us on the bow. Our first stop is at Stetson Bank, the northern-most
seamount in the sanctuary. With the mooring line tied, the ladders go
down and it’s time to suit up. This is the highest giant stride of any dive
boat I think I have ever been on. How far is that? Six feet. It’s only six feet? That’s it. That is more than six feet. Well, wait until the waves go down. It’s more than six feet. Alright. Woo! Next my camera is lowered on a rope. Sort of. As a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame,
my wife Christine is here. Cameraman Todd had to stay home because Christine
is my camerawoman! We descend 80 feet to the top of Stetson Bank. Stetson, like the Flower Garden Banks, is
a seamount—a pinnacle that rises up from deep water like an underwater mountain. The summit of that mountain is shallow enough
that we can get there with conventional scuba gear. Stetson is sedimentary rock. Erosion has made the layers of the rock easily
observable. Due to cool water temperatures, there is very
little coral at Stetson Bank, but the rocks are covered in sponges and algae. The marine life here takes advantage of what
they have: algae, sponges and cracks. A crack hides a sea urchin and an arrow crab. A well-camouflaged Scorpionfish hides in plain
sight on an algae-tufted rock. A cluster of purple tube sponge is a home
for damselfish. But sponge is also a meal for a hungry French
angelfish. And, one of the hardest fish to find–a Frogfish
looks like a sponge to avoid detection. It’s in a weird position and hard to film,
but this rare beauty deserves some screen time! The bank also attracts big schools of fish
looking for food, and a place to hide at night. At this depth, we can’t stay very long. Soon it’s time to head back to the boat. We ascend up the mooring line, do a safety
stop, and then make our way to the ladder at the stern of the boat. Woo! As soon as everyone is out of the water, the
crew begins filling tanks, and preparing for departure to the Flower Garden Banks. Anchors are destructive to the reef, so we
are tying the boat to a permanently attached mooring line. Down on the reef, the mooring line is attached
to a strong steel ring embedded in the reef. There are several mooring sites on the bank
and no anchors are allowed. Before the dive, we get a briefing from Captain
Bland. Just pull hand over hand like you have been
doing… Then it’s time to suit up and check out
the coral! The water here is super clear and blue and
I can see the reef below as soon as I hit the water, even though its 80 feet down! Christine and I fire up our cameras and try
to familiarize ourselves with the topography. We will be back down here after dark looking
for the coral spawning. The Flower Garden Banks look much different
than Stetson Bank. In the winter, the water here is only 4°
Fahrenheit warmer than Stetson, but that’s enough to allow dense coral growth. In fact, the bank is jam-packed with coral
in density that is rarely seen elsewhere. The top of this seamount isn’t very big,
so the coral competes for space. Star corals and brain corals dominate the
landscape. Large barrel sponges complete the topography
picture. There are coral overhangs and crevasses. They create habitats for the type of marine
life that thrives on Caribbean reefs. A moray eel watches me with caution. Christmas tree worms burrow into the coral
and extend their delicate gills into the water. Above the reef, schools of silvery baitfish
eat plankton. At night they will hide in the reef, where
they will be stalked by Lionfish—beautiful but deadly invasive species that originated
in the Indo-Pacific. With no natural predators in the Gulf of Mexico
and Caribbean, Lionfish populations are skyrocketing. Parrotfish are a common sight on all corals
reefs. They eat the algae that lives on and in coral. They have hard teeth that can take the abuse
of biting at limestone all day. Once the parrotfish gets used to me, I can
get pretty close for some nice shots. But when I look up, I have attracted the attention
of a Barracuda…and it’s circling! This is definitely not normal Barracuda behavior. While this fish does look mean, looks can
be deceiving. The fact is that they’re almost never aggressive
to divers. So what’s going on? It doesn’t take long to figure out that
I have stumbled into the barracuda’s cleaning station. As soon as I get out of the way, the barracuda
swims up, does its best to hold still, and soon receives the attention of a cleaner fish
in the form of a juvenile Spanish Hogfish. The Hogfish is searching for parasites on
the barracuda to eat. If it can find any, the Hogfish gets fed and
the barracuda gets rid of an annoying hitch-hiker. It’s good for everyone. So the barracuda just keeps orbiting around
the Hogfish’s lair. All too soon, once again its time to make
our way back to the world above. Christine and I do a safety stop just below
the boat. While we are hanging on the mooring line,
a manta ray swims by! You can’t beat that for safety stop entertainment! Woo, that was fantastic! Such a great dive with nice clear water…I
love it! Later in the day, as the sun sets, it’s
getting to be time for the coral spawn. We can only hope that tonight is the night. It only happens a few nights per year. When we start seeing the eggs at the surface,
we know we hit the jackpot. It’s time to go!! Our group of divers rush to hit the water. As I descend into the dark ocean, it looks
more like outer space. I’m surrounded by constellations of coral
spawn. I’m getting worried that we missed the main
event. Down on the reef, I frantically search for
spawning coral. But it doesn’t take long to find a coral
colony that hasn’t spawned yet. Each polyp of this brain coral is incubating
a single gamete bundle. It looks like an egg, but brain corals are
hermaphrodites. Each bundle contains an egg and sperm together. As the bundles are released and float away,
they later separate into eggs and sperm, so they can cross-fertilized in the water column. I’m conflicted as I patiently wait for a
coral colony to spawn. I have no way of knowing what I’m missing
somewhere else on the reef while I focus all my attention here. But this is what I came to see! The miracle of life. The night may be special to the coral, but
the parrotfish is trying to get some well-deserved rest. I’m pretty sure the honeycomb cowfish is
annoyed by my video lights and wants me to leave. The barracuda has lost interest in getting
cleaned and hunkered down for the night. Our timing was good. The coral spawn is about over by the time
we need to leave. I’m thrilled to have been a part of the
expedition to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The sponge-covered topography of Stetson Bank
with its diverse inhabitants is an underwater photographer’s paradise. And the reef-covered shallows of the Flower
Garden Banks are more densely-packed than many Caribbean reefs. Seeing the coral spawn was icing on the cake. The Gulf of Mexico is definitely much more
than meets the eye.

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About the Author: Maximilian Kuhn

99 Comments

  1. I want you to go scuba diving at Puerto vallarta Mexico 🇲🇽!!! It is a amazing reef!!!! Go check it out!!

  2. Wow, magical! 😀 (and oh boy 'hit' the water is right, what a drop, lol!) The more I learn about the Gulf of Mexico the more fascinated I am by it, especially the geology; cold seeps and massive sediment layers and all that, super interesting

  3. Just found this channel Jonathan (its amazing!). One day I will study the ocean and I would be lucky to say I am half the diver you are or have done half the great experiences you had. Trouble is finding places I CAN dive in (Im taking pools here not open water xD) Best of luck, FD

  4. I am almost speechless everytime I witness Mother Nature's marvellous works. Equally marvellous is the work that you and your team do, Jonathan. Keep being your fantastic selves.
    Thanks for the video.

  5. Excellent as always, if not done so already, please make an episode on your camera gear and ocean white balancing 😉

  6. yes I have been !!! I recommend los arcos !!!😅😅😅 it's the largest marine reef in the West Coast and mexico !!! you will see tons of tropical fish !!!!

  7. I love your videos. Salutations from La Paz Mexico (-a eleven year old boy called Santi) keep the great job!!

  8. Me and my girlfriend are both nature lovers, particularly everything related to the oceans. We love your movies. Your enthusiasm is contagious. Thank you and keep showing us all the marvels of the underwater world.

  9. I just love your work….I watch your videos repeatedly, you are enlightening upcoming Marine Biology enthusiasts like me. Thank You from the bottom of my heart. can you comment on Climate change affecting Marine life worldwide or can you simply make a separate episode on that as I feel you would be the perfect person to speak about Climate change affecting Marine life! Thank You.

  10. Hey Jonathan, I'm really impressed love your camera work here, the angles you used and the gorgeous panning shots. The texture of the coral just jumps out at you in high-res, and the color is vibrant. Love your wonderful explanations of what we're seeing, and of course the gentle background music that ties things together. I'd love to get to know more about your crew? What do they all do? How many of them remain, how many change for every episode? Looking forward to many more of your videos!

  11. So glad you did an episode on the Flower Gardens. Went this year as I was in Houston and this was the recommended diving. I had never heard of it and wasn't expecting much but as you show it is a hidden gem. The only thing you missed was the crew. They are awesome. It is the only diving I've done where you end with a warm brownie fresh out of the oven :).

  12. Hai Jonathan ✋ I'm your big fan from Jakarta, Indonesia. I just want to share my personal story here. when I was 5 years old I drowned into very deep water. Since that moment I've spent painful years in fear of water. Even my mom has to chased me in bath time when I was little girl because I'm really afraid and feel panic. Years passed, I'm trying little by little to face the water and even learn how to swim, but it still has no result. To be honest, watching your videos of deep water journey like everyday 2-3hours really cures of how I perceive water. You make it like fun and adventurous. Thank you Sir for uploading these videos to watch, it really helps me too to relax. Hoping one day I can really have courage enough to dive deep and swimming skill like you had. Regards. God bless.

  13. I challenge you on your manta ray safety stop on my first actual dive while doing a safety stop my dive instructor starts pointing behind me I look around and don't see a thing turns out a 12 ft hammerhead shark just managed to stay just iut of view

  14. I love dive sites like this as you never know what you might see. Great video Jonathan and team. Thanks. 👍

  15. Your channel is my quick break from studying! I love watching your channel. Keep up the good work and pls don't stop. 💙

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