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Explore the Florida Keys: Top Dive Sites and Marine Life

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The Florida Keys stretch 180 miles into the Caribbean like a string of tiny islands trailing off the end of the Florida peninsula. With idyllic water and air temperatures throughout the year and one of the world’s most extensive coral reefs, the Florida Keys offers some of the best diving in the USA. Divers of all levels travel here to enjoy the Keys’ warm, shallow reefs and astounding wrecks.

Continue reading to discover the best dive sites and marine life the Florida Keys has to offer.

Sea to Sky

Florida Keys
Photo by Chase Baker on Unsplash

Top dive sites of the Upper Keys.

Local Floridians separate the Florida Keys into two primary regions: the Upper and Lower Keys. In the Upper Keys, centered around Key Largo, divers of all levels can access world-class sites featuring beautiful clear reefs and impressive shipwrecks. Bring your wreck diving and deep diving certifications to make the most of this area’s dive opportunities. 

The USS Spiegel Grove

The Spiegel Grove is one of the most famous dive sites in the Florida Keys. This 510-foot ship was intentionally sunk off Key Largo in 2002 to create one of the world’s largest artificial reefs and is now a massive underwater ecosystem. Divers can swim along the ship’s superstructure covered in soft corals and sponges while schools of jacks, snappers, and giant groupers swim about. You can also explore the massive cargo holds and the upper decks, which sharks and barracudas frequent.

Liquid Diving

The Duane and the Bibb

The Duane and the Bibb are sister ships sunk one day apart in 1987. The ‘twins’ are both 327-foot former U.S. Coast Guard Cutters intentionally sunk as artificial reefs off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. The Duane is a classic wreck sitting upright at 125 feet deep, while the Bibb sits completely on its starboard side at 130 feet deep, making for an exciting dive. Both wrecks are longtime favorites among technical, wreck, and deep divers. These wrecks are home to schools of grunts, snappers, and sergeant majors, with bright sponges, sea fans, and soft corals adorning both wrecks. Look for eagle rays, reef sharks, sea turtles, and large groupers on the exteriors of both wrecks.

Molasses Reef

Part of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, Molasses Reef is renowned for its intricate coral canyons and fun swim-throughs. With shallow depths, excellent visibility, and minimal current, it caters to divers of all ages. Encounter nurse sharks, stingrays, moray eels, and an array of Caribbean reef fish in this captivating underwater landscape.

Christ of the Abyss 

Off Key Largo lies the iconic Christ of the Abyss statue, a 9-foot bronze memorial sunk in 1954. Bring your camera, as this is one of the area’s most photographed sites. You will also encounter barracudas, colorful reef fish, and the occasional sea turtle at this shallow, intriguing dive site.

Sombrero Reef

Moving south toward Marathon, Sombrero Reef is renowned for impressive coral formations and diverse marine life. Named after the 142-foot Sombrero Key Lighthouse, this shallow coral reef system hosts eagle rays, reef sharks, and colorful reef fish, making it a popular spot for both divers and snorkelers.

Top dive sites of the Lower Keys

As you head south, crossing the iconic seven-mile bridge, you’ll enter the Lower Keys, where life moves slowly, and nature abounds. From here to Key West and beyond, colorful, healthy reefs dot the crystal-clear waters. While there are still good wrecks, the Lower Keys draws divers for its exceptional biodiversity and calm, clear waters. Diving with nitrox is a good idea to stay underwater here as long as possible; there is so much to see.

Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary

Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is one of the most popular dive sites in the Florida Keys, with over 10,000 verified logged dives in SSI’s MyDiveGuide system! This spur and groove reef formation is an excellent choice for families due to its shallow depth and lack of current. Swaying sea fans, vibrant coral gardens, and a wide variety of tropical fish abound. Barracudas, loggerhead sea turtles, and eagle rays also frequent this site.

The USS Vandenburg

The 527-foot USS Vandenberg is the most thrilling dive of the Lower Keys. From the top at 40 feet to the hull at 140, this former military transport ship provides opportunities for both novice and advanced divers, featuring penetration dives and eerie corridors to explore. This colossal artificial reef is home to schools of grunts, snappers, and jacks while barracudas patrol the deck and nurse sharks sleep throughout the ship. Bring your camera to capture the ship’s fantastic imagery.

Sambos Reef

Split into Eastern, Western, and Middle Sambo, this small reef system in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary boasts healthy elkhorn and brain coral – a special treat for coral enthusiasts! You will encounter various Caribbean reef fish, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and the occasional tarpon, showcasing the beauty of a well-preserved coral reef.

Sea Turtle
Photo by Olga ga on Unsplash

Dry Tortugas National Park

If you want one of the most unique experiences in the Florida Keys, diving at Dry Tortugas National Park is it. This remote, pristine marine sanctuary combines historical exploration and untouched reef diving. Located 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas offer once-in-a-lifetime dive sites only accessible by liveaboard charters. Opportunities are limited, so book in advance. You’ll be rewarded with hordes of sea turtles, sharks, rays, and Caribbean reef fish of all colors.

No matter which area of the Florida Keys you decide to visit, you will not be disappointed. Whether you prefer long, peaceful dives meandering through shallow coral reefs or the excitement of fighting a ripping current across a deep wreck, diving in the Florida Keys has something for everyone. With over 800 tiny islands, the Florida Keys offers more top-side and underwater adventure than most places on the planet. 



About Author

For more than 45 years, SSI has provided training, scuba diving certification, and educational resources for divers, dive instructors, dive centers and resorts around the world. Started in 1970, SSI has expanded to include more than 30 Service Centers, is represented in more than 110 countries with over 2,800 International locations, and has materials printed in more than 30 languages. SSI is the name to trust in the diving world, and we attribute that success to our uncompromising standards and focused methodology.

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