With an abundance of marine life and clear waters you can expect unlimited opportunities for excellent snorkeling in and around the Florida Keys.
The Florida Keys may also be referred to as the American Caribbean. With its clear warm waters and close proximity to the Caribbean Sea. This southern most part of the United States boasts of having the only living-coral reef in the Continental United States.
The barrier reef extends the entire length of the 120 mile island chain and is located roughly 6 miles offshore.
In fact the Florida reef starts at the Dry Tortuga’s National Park and Fort Jefferson, almost 70 miles west of Key West, and ends in Martin County, some 358 miles long.
Although the Florida Keys reef tract resembles a barrier reef, it is considered more of a bank reef. Reasons being, it lacks the inshore lagoons that are found on most barrier reefs.
The unique feature of the Florida reef is the small patch reefs which grows from the main reef line all the way in to the island shores. Some of these patches can be snorkeled and explored right from the parking areas, directly off the highway (US 1).
Snorkeling in Key West – Dive Gin Clear Waters
As many as 37 species of octocorals and 45 species of stony coral make up the Florida Keys reef which is a Nationally Protected Marine Habitat, known as The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Corals can be divided into two general groups; Stony coral, which is the hard white rock that is the foundation for the reef and Octocoral which is more commonly referred to as ”Sea Fans.” Each species lives in separate colonies and presents various hues, depending on the algae that lives within them.
The coral reef community also benefits from the filtration system of the more than 70 species of marine sponges within the reef. Stony corals make up the reef foundation by extracting calcium from seawater combining it with carbon dioxide to build the backbone of the reef.
Some areas to explore are John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo where snorkel and dive trips leave daily. Many referred to as “The Dive Capital of the World”.
Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary
Just past Marathon, as your driving into the Keys, is The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. It lies five nautical miles south of Big Pine Key, Florida and is considered to be the most spectacular part of the reef tract. Protection of the The Looe Key Reef was started by the government in 1981 and is a popular dive stop.
This particular portion of the reef has convenient yellow mooring buoys to tie your boat off, instead of anchoring on the reef itself, which is prohibited.
Looking for a good wreck dive? Check-out the Vandenberg, a 500 ft. troop transport ship sunk off Key West making it the largest artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and second on the planet. Many experienced divers consider it to be one of the best wreck dives in the world.
If your looking for a casual snorkeling trip or a serious dive all within the good old U.S., try The Florida Keys, you’ll be amazed at the pure beauty of this great country.