Diving and Snorkeling are two activities which the Keys have a-plenty! Following are the diving and snorkeling options in each part of the Keys.
The 120-mile Florida Keys island chain is home to the continental United States’ only living-coral barrier reef. This teeming backbone of marine life runs the length of the Keys about five miles offshore and offers Florida Keys scuba diving vacation memories that last a lifetime.
Our coral formations are famous for their abundance of fish, from impressive schools of blue-striped grunts to toothy green moray eels. The U.S. government established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to protect our marine habitat.
Preserving the reef is a top priority for a good reason. There is no more versatile marine destination in the world. We have coral-encrusted ship wrecks and intricate natural coral formations. We have shallow reefs for snorkelers, and a range of deeper reefs for experienced divers.
Most dive sites are equipped with convenient mooring buoys to save the reef from anchors and make it easy for boaters to tie off. Most sites are a short boat ride from our islands, where dozens of highly professional dive operators are ready to cater to you.
Once you visit the Keys, you’ll see why some of the some of the most renowned dive photographers and writers in the world make this their home base.
The Upper Keys:
In Key Largo and Islamorada, KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marinas has two exclusive locations, Mariners Resort Villas & Marina and the Historic Tavernier Inn
Key Largo Diving & Snorkeling
KEY LARGO – MM112 – 90
Key Largo has had a long history of marine conservation. beginning in 1960 with the creation of the nation’s first undersea preserve, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and then with the designation of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975, Key Largo has been protected from spearfishing and coral collection for four decades. Now, as an integral portion of the 2,900-square-nautical-mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo features six unique Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPA’s) where even hook and line fishing is prohibited. Nowhere on earth has more friendly fish than Key Largo, creating an absolute paradise for underwater photographers!
ISLAMORADA – MM90 – 63
Islamorada, long recognized as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” is now an icon among sport divers for much the same reason, a massive population of tropical marine life. High profile coral heads and broad ledges shelter huge congregates of French grunt and goatfish, while regal queen angelfish casually graze amid the reef recesses. Friendly green moray eels swim freely along the spur-and-groove channels, and reclusive nurse sharks lurk beneath the overhangs. Islamorada offers a wide variety of shallow coral reefs, mini walls, shipwrecks, and even an underwater habitat for scientific research, the Aquarius. To learn more about Islamorada or any other manner of local lore, stop by the Chamber of Commerce at mile marker 82.5 or dial 1-800-322-5397.
* The Eagle – This 287-foot ship was intentionally sunk in 110 feet of water as a dive attraction and rests on her starboard side cloaked in a colorful patina of encrusting sponge and coral, populated by huge schools of grunt, tarpon, and jack.
* Davis Reef – This reef is revered for its incredible concentration of grunts and schoolmaster snapper, as well as several amiable resident green morays, long accustomed to benign interaction with the dive masters.
* Alligator Reef – Now marked by a 136-foot-tall lighthouse, on this spot in 1822 the USS Alligator grounded and sank while protecting a convoy from pirates. Now all that remains of the wreck are the twin piles of ballast stones, but the coral reef – in just 25 feet of water – is vibrant and alive.
* Conch Wall – Offering an exciting change of pace from the normal spur-and-groove profiles of most Keys’ reefs, Conch Wall presents a precipitous sloping wall and captivating concentrations of barrel sponge and gorgonia punctuating the seafloor.
* Crocker Wall – A 450+-foot-long wall in 50 feet of water. The wall has a thirty-foot decline and features grunts, yellowtail and grouper with spur-and-groove coral and block coral on the wall.
* Pickles Reef – For macro photo enthusiasts, Pickles provides a wonderful opportunity to encounter the reef’s minutia, from flamingo tongue cowries to banded coral shrimp, all amid a dynamic coral reef in only 15 to 25 feet of water.
The Middle Keys:
In the Middle Keys, KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marinas has the Village at Hawks Cay Villas on Duck Key, Indigo Reef Resort Villas & Marina and the Coral Lagoon Resort Villas & Marina vacation rentals in Marathon\
MARATHON – MM63 – 47
As seen from the air, Marathon and the Middle Keys appear as emerald isles set amid a sea of turquoise. Marathon’s reefs offer great variety in coral formations and fish life. The crystalline waters of the Atlantic Ocean reveal a marine wilderness comprised of an extensive spur-and-groove coral complex and numerous well-developed patch reefs. Each reef is populated by a vast array of Caribbean tropical fish and invertebrates, with the fascinating addition of both modern and historical shipwrecks to complete the tremendous sport dive appeal of the region. For more information on Marathon, drop by the Chamber of Commerce at mile marker 53.5 or call 1-800-262-7284.
* Adelaide Baker – This historic shipwreck features a pair of huge stacks in only 25 feet of water, a vivid reminder of the days when steamships plied the Florida Keys.
* Sombrero Reef – This traditional favorite of the Marathon dive portfolio is marked by a 140-foot lighted tower. Coral canyons and archways provide refuge for schools of grunt and snapper while solitary barracuda appear to stand sentinel.
* Coffin’s Patch – This is not a single reef but a conglomerate of six distinct patch reefs, each with a unique identity defined by a predominant coral species. For example, at Pillar Coral Patch dozens of intact pillar coral heads thrust their fuzzy polyps to snare passing nutrients. Snorkelers will especially appreciate the shallow elkhorn forests found throughout Coffin’s Patch in less than 20 feet of water.
* Delta Shoals – Here a vast network of coral canyons fan seaward from a sandy shoal, offering wonderful opportunities for both diving and snorkeling amid elkhorn, brain, and star coral heads.
* The Thunderbolt – This 188-foot ship is the queen of the Marathon wreck fleet. Sunk intentionally as a dive attraction on March 3, 1986, she now sits perfectly upright in 115 feet of water. Her superstructure is coated with colorful sponge, coral, and hydroid, providing refuge and sustenance to large angelfish, jacks, and a variety of deep-water pelagic creatures.
The Lower Keys:
In the Lower Keys, KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marinas has the Coral Hammock Resort Villas and Kings Point Marina & Condominiums vacation rentals
KEY WEST – MM4 – 0
Key West’s largest and most pristine reefs are located several miles off shore and are best visited with the help of professional dive and snorkel charter services. However, fascinating snorkeling is also available from shore along the south side of the island in the Key West Marine Park The park is operated by the non-profit group Reef Relief and the City of Key West.
* Sand Key – One of the many popular reef destinations off Key West. This islet, marked by a large iron lighthouse delights both snorkelers and scuba divers with an abundance and variety of coral and marine life. With over ten miles of coral reefs of varying depths. Sand Key offers visitors endless opportunities to enjoy some of the best diving in the Caribbean!
* Joe’s Tug – This classic tugboat sits totally upright in just 65 feet of water, an idyllic setting for close encounters with Goliath Grouper, spotted morays, barracuda, and horse eye jacks.
* Ten-Fathom Ledge – Here, unusual coral caves and dramatic overhangs provide refuge for both lobster and grouper, while pelagic life frequently parades in the blue water to seaward.
* The Cayman Salvor -This 180-foot. steel hulled buoy tender, also known as the Cayman Salvager, was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in 1985. She now sits upright with cavernous open holds providing refuge for baitfish and grunts, as well as a resident jewfish and green moray eel.
* Nine Foot Stake – This patch reef in 10 to 25 feet, is perfect for either scuba or snorkel exploration and is noted for beautiful concentrations of soft corals and juvenile marine life.
* Kedge Ledge – One of the highlights of this lovely reef is the remains of a pair of coral encrusted anchors lost from 18th century sailing vessels.
* The Atocha – While not a local dive site, the Atocha was discovered by treasure hu nter Mel Fisher in the waters off Key West. With so rich a wreck nearby, its hard to dive these waters without wondering what bit of history or bounty might be concealed beneath the convoluted corals and vast reef structures.
* Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg – Since being sunk to the bottom in under two minutes’ time on May 27, 2009, the second-largest ship in the world to be made an artificial reef sits encrusted with Gorgonian corals and algae.
More than 100 confirmed species of fish have taken up residency, such as parrotfish, yellow and blue tangs, barracuda, a variety of snapper, mackerel and hogfish, as well as deep water pelagics. Vandenberg sits upright approximately seven miles off Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, welcoming divers from all over the world to explore its massive superstructure. The ship represents the southernmost part of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail, a series of intentionally sunk vessels that begins off Key Largo with the former Navy landing ship dock Spiegel Grove.
This is what you need to know to take advantage of all boating and water experiences in the Florida Keys. If you’re coming down to visit and stay with us at the KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marinas in our vacation rentals, share some of your favorite experiences with us …
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