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While the Gulf of Mexico is a region known for oil, it’s also home to something far less expected. Nestled among offshore oil platforms, about 150 miles from Houston, is one of the healthiest coral reefs in the world: the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Marine researchers who have visited the Flower Garden Banks describe it with awe in their voices. “When you look out, it can be almost disorienting because there’s so much coral,” said Michelle Johnston, superintendent of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. 

As reefs around the world bleach at alarming rates, scientists are racing to study and preserve this remarkable coral reef in the unlikeliest of places. “We have these magical underwater places, [and yet they are] completely surrounded by the oil and gas industry,” Johnston said.

A panoramic image of East Flower Garden Bank, where coral cover is upwards of 80 percent. Emma Hickerson / Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary via NOAA

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