EXPERIENCES IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
There are things you can do in and on the water to minimize impact to the reef while enjoying its beauty. Here are seven tips:
Don’t stand or rest on coral — if you need to adjust your gear, float on your back or in a seated postion. If you need to stand, return to your boat.
Maintain buoyancy — streamline gear, and use proper dive posture, with feet elevated slightly above the head.
Secure all equipment — make sure it does not come in contact with the reef. Avoid wearing gloves in coral reef environments.
Keep your distance — maintain a comfortable distance, and avoid very shallow areas, especially at entry and exit points.
Leave marine life alone — do not touch, handle, feed or ride marine life. You are in their home.
Keep the reef at the reef — animals or corals from the reef are not souvenirs
Look but don’t touch — even a minor brush with a hand or stray fin can smother coral animals.
The Upper Keys:
In Key Largo and Islamorada, where 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 Diving & Snorkeling
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
Lower Keys – Mile Marker 39.9 – 4.0
The Lower Keys are the least developed of the Florida Keys and in many ways the most natural. It is here that the last remaining herd of Key Deer is found, and there are even alligators residing within a scenic inland blue hole. Yet for the visiting snorkeler and diver, the highlight of a visit to the Lower Keys wouldn’t be complete without an excursion to Looe Key Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Named for the HMS Looe which ran aground here in 1744, Looe Key Reef is just 5.3 sq. nautical miles, yet within this small area is a tremendous variety of both coral structure and marine life.
Long been recognized as one of the special jewels of the Florida Keys’ reef tract, the coral reef of Looe Key has been afforded special protection since 1981. Since then, all spearfishing, coral collection, and even lobstering have been banned here, with the result being large schools of friendly fish and a gorgeous coral reef. For more information on Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, visit the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce at mile marker 31 or simply dial 1-800-872-3722.
* Looe Key Reef – Here angelfish boldly swim right to a diver’s facemask, and more varieties of tropical marine species are found than perhaps anywhere else in the hemisphere. One unusual aspect of Looe Key is that a complete reef ecosystem is found here, from a rubble ridge of ancient fossilized corals, to a reef flat comprised of turtle grass, to a fore reef made up of large star and brain corals arranged in a spur-and-groove coral formation sloping from 20 to 40 feet. There is even a deep reef which slopes to more than 100 feet, providing a spectacular opportunity to view the pelagic species of the Florida Keys, including eagle rays, turtles and even the rare and wonderful whale shark or manta ray on occasion.
* Adolphus Busch Sr. – Wreck diving came to the Lower Keys in a big way on December 5, 1998 with the intentional sinking of the 210-foot Adolphus Busch Sr. The former island freighter was purchased by the local dive community with the generous assistance of Adolphus Busch IV, and sunk perfectly upright and intact in just 100 feet of water some seven miles southwest of Big Pine Key. It seems each day more and more marine life calls this fascinating wreck “home.” In fact, a 350-pound Goliath Grouper has already staked its claim beneath the wheelhouse.
These are some of my favorite experiences this week 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 your favorite experiences with us in the comments section of our blog…
Visit our blog next Thursday with updated experiences in the Florida Keys…