Marine Science Graduate Students Dive Flower Garden Banks

August 29, 2014

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Researchers and students of the Harte Research Institute (HRI) at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi took a close-up look at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary during the annual coral spawning event August 15 through August 19.

The mass coral spawn is triggered every year, nine days after the first full moon of August. HRI masters and doctoral level students experienced the amazing mass spawning event and aided researchers in an attempt to understand how corals, sponges, and even sea stars know when it is the right time to reproduce. The sanctuary, which lies approximately 130 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.

“The expedition to the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary allows students to experience the healthiest coral reef in the Atlantic Ocean and be part of one of the most unique events that occur in our oceans – the mass spawning event of an entire coral reef,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, HRI Executive Director and Chief Scientist for the cruise. “Nothing else could better inspire our students to study hard to make a difference and help assure healthy and productive oceans for the future.”

The purpose of the annual expedition is to remind graduate students why they are working on their master’s and doctoral degrees. The expedition gives students the opportunity to break away from their books and experience one of the Gulf’s natural wonders before they move on to their future careers.

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. Dr. David Hicks, Chair and Associate Professor of Marine and Estuarine Ecology from the University of Texas at Brownsville joined this year’s cruise.

“One of our objectives is to provide our students the opportunity to interact with leading scientists from around the world,” stated McKinney. “This is our third expedition, and to date, we have taken more than 70 scientists, journalists, and students on this singular cruise.”