The Florida Keys beckon to snorkelers and divers from all over the world…and with good reason. Great water clarity, warm temperatures above and below the water line, and thousands of places to view the underwater world make this place a Mecca for viewing corals and colorful fish.
Photo by Scooter Hollingsworth
Coffins Patch Reef is a great place to explore. The reef is dotted with several types of coral, including pillar coral and brain coral. Both the fish and coral grow larger here because the reef is in a protected area. An old Spanish shipwreck is still luring visitors to its underwater grave. This spot is great for underwater pictures with average 10-15 ft depths. Try to get some shots of angelfish, mutton and spiny lobsters for the photo albums. Good for snorkeling and SCUBA diving.
Photo by Scooter Hollingsworth
Bahia Honda State Park is full of opportunities to see the world under the water, too This is a perfect place to learn to snorkel in shallow water off the beaches of Bahia Honda. Snorkeling around the coral encrusted pilings of the old railway bridge is fascinating – though you want to be aware of currents. The park rangers will know about water conditions and currents.. The concrete pillars are circled with little curious fish, a fun site for young snorkelers. [More on Bahia Honda State Park.]
Looe Key – One of the most amazing reefs in Florida is located offshore is Looe Key Marine Sanctuary – and you can join a group charter to Looe Key from the Bahia Honda State Park. Snorkelers and SCUBA divers can enjoy the spur and groove formations in the sanctuary and enjoy the Star and Elkhorn coral that abound in the reef. With water depths of 5-25ft, this area is great for beginners to snorkeling with lots of fantastic views and also worthwhile for divers. The reef was named for the HMS Looe
Pigeon Key is another great place to snorkel from the “shore.” Pigeon Key is located off of the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Snorkelers here can still find treasures in the water- bottles, metals, railroad materials and more. However- here the rule is to put the ‘treasures’ in a collective cart instead of removing them. The dock on Pigeon Key (below) is surrounded with great opportunities to see colorful fish. Don’t miss enjoying the island history getting to, and on, this island. The Old Seven Mile Bridge was first a railroad track owned by Henry Flagler. It was made into a narrow and often dangerous bridge. The cottages on the island are over a hundred-years-old. Picnic tables dot the island. This is a great, inexpensive place to spend the day. Pack a picnic and enjoy.
Sombrero Key Lighthouse offers shallow water without a lot of current – perfect for looking at the beauty below. The lighthouse is 8 miles from Key Colony Beach Close to the lighthouse are depths of 4-5ft gradually falling off to greater depths of spur and groove coral formations. Eagle rays, Parrotfish and sand sharks can be seen here among the purple fans and corals. This spot is a wonderful place for beginners, but with the vivid colors and the various depths it’s also fantastic for experienced SCUBA divers. Renowned for its coral formations, perhaps the most popular is a swim through known as “The Arch.”
This one is easy to find, too – just look for the lighthouse. It marks the spot between the reef and the open ocean waters. The reef is only partially submerged and access is easy. Just secure your boat to one of the dozen moorings, grab your camera and your snorkel and go. It’s also easy to find a dive charter to visit this reef if you don’t have your own boat. Here’s mooring map for boaters:
Aerial of Sombrero Reef by US Geological Survey
Photo courtesy of Florida Keys Public Library