Florida Keys are a chain of islands made up of exposed parts of coral reefs on the southernmost part of the continental United States. The Keys are considered a highly biodiverse area because of the coral reefs surrounding the islands. The reef is called the Florida Reef and it is one of the largest barrier reefs on Earth.
Because of its great biodiversity, the archipelago is a major ecotourism hub for the U.S. and a large part of the Keys’ economy. The inviting waters of the Atlantic Ocean have also made it a haven for the local scuba divers and international tourists. Known for its colorful reefs and shipwrecks, the Keys offers numerous experiences for divers and snorkelers.
The USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg shipwreck. Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife
Florida Keys has a tropical climate which makes it suitable for diving year-round. However, rain is to be expected between May and October.
The ocean reaches its warmest point during the months of July and August when the temperatures average 31° C/87° F. The coldest temperatures are recorded in January when the water gets to a chilly 21° C/69° F.
Visibility is affected by the surface weather, which is why it can go from bad to good (30 meters/100 feet) in a matter of days.
Types of Diving
• Reef diving
• Wreck diving
• Deep diving
• Night diving
• Cavern diving
Molasses Reef, Key Largo. Photo by Tracey Spencer
Key Largo is probably the most highly-ranked destination within Florida Keys… and the self-proclaimed Dive Capital of the World. While the latter may not necessarily be 100% true, it nonetheless a great destination for divers, especially wreck divers. Key Largo offers one of the largest artificial reefs in the world – the USS Spiegel Grove, a 160-meter (510-foot) shipwreck. One of the most well-preserved reef systems in Florida – the Molasses Reef, can also be found here. But one of the most photographed diving highlights is the Christ of the Abyss statue that stands 2.5 meters (8.5 feet) tall in shallow water for everyone to admire.
Islamorada offers some of the best diving in the area. The purple island is known for its plethora of gamefish which put it on the map for sport fishing enthusiasts. But scuba divers come here for the abundance of marine life too. Queen angelfish, nudibranchs, barracudas, schooling jacks, snappers, groupers, hogfish, eagle rays, stingrays, sea turtles, Caribbean reef sharks, and dolphins are some of the many sea creatures one can expect to encounter here. The underwater landscape is defined by spur reefs, groove reefs, patch reefs, walls, crevices, and caverns. There are also a few deep sites that can challenge technical divers.
Key West is yet another exceptional scuba diving destination, one where the U.S. is at its most Caribbean. The scuba diving that takes place at Key West can be compared to the more exotic dive spots. The reef ecosystem is rich in colorful tropical fish and game fish. Key West is home to many other historical shipwrecks, including one of the legendary wrecks of the world: the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.