We've just returned from our only trip to the Flower Gardens for the 2010 diving season. We had others scheduled but all were cancelled when our chartered boat, the M/V Fling, left to assist with the BP oil spill cleanup. Fortunately, we had a trip scheduled aboard the M/V Spree and the owners decided to honor their committment to their dive guests and to conduct trips as scheduled.
The trip was as near-perfect as could be expected when you're about 130 miles offshore and sea conditions can change in the blink of an eye. We dove all parts of the Flower Gardens Sanctuary…East Bank, West Bank and Stetson Banks. We tried to dive one of the oil platforms within the sanctuary but surface currents and fluctuating surface breezes made that unsafe so we abandoned the attempt. Water conditions varied with temps around 86 degres at the bottom, seas running one to three feet with little or no currents and visibilities from 60 to 110 feet. Diving conditions just couldn't have been better.
We noted some coral bleaching but it wasn't excessive and the polyps were alive and well as evidenced by their activity during the night dive. Since this was our only trip this year, we don't know if the condition has been present all summer or if it was a recent occurrance.
Wildlife was present in abundance but it seemed to me to be less than in years past. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to look at. Stetson, as usual, takes the cake when it comes to critter presence. Stuff is everywhere with no place to hide. Morays are swimming around looking for hiding places with Graysby's following their every move. I didn't see the lobsters and conchs we normally find but I understand the poachers may have had a hand in the population decline. It's a shame but being so far from land, it's hard to enforce the laws so these things happen.
We saw absolutely no evidence of oil pollution from the BP oil spill a few hundred miles to the east. Hopefully the spill won't have any impact on the sanctuary in the coming months.
For another trip report on this outing, visit the M/V Spree's website, http://www.spreeexpeditions.com/ and click on their "Trip Reports". We were on the September 11-12 trip.
We'll schedule more Flower Gardens trip in the coming year but there are no schedules available yet so we'll just have to wait and see what develops. We'll have a schedule posted on the "TRIPS" page as soon as we get one. Plan to join us and see what everyone is talking about!!