Key Largo is an island in the Florida Keys archipelago, a fossilized remnant of ancient coral reefs. It’s the first of the Keys. An accessible island getaway, Key Largo offers a multitude of options when it comes to watersports activities, including kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Key Largo is the self-proclaimed dive capital of the world and home to one of world's largest artificial reef, the 160-meter (510-foot) USS Spiegel Grove. Plus, the country’s first undersea park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, is located here and includes approximately 240 square meters (70 nautical square miles) of adjacent Atlantic Ocean waters.
The renowned Christ of the Abyss statue in Key Largo, Florida. Photo by Sebastian Carlosena
The best time to enjoy watersports in Key Largo (and Florida Keys, in general) is April through July. The official hurricane season in the area begins in June and ends in November/December. However, storms are most likely August through October.
The water temperatures in Key Largo range from a minimum of 20° C/68° F in the winter and 30° C/86° F in the summer, peaking in August.
The water currents and visibility vary from dive site to dive site and are also dependent on the surface weather. Still, there are plenty of dive sites with good diving conditions for the less experienced. Visibility ranges from 12 to 30 meters (40 - 100 feet).
Molasses Reef lies to the southeast offshore of Key Largo and is considered to be one of the most well-preserved reef systems in all of Florida. It is also the most visited in the Florida Keys because of the clear waters, abundant marine life, and numerous boulder corals. The central portion of the Molasses Reef features a winch and a historical anchor.
Most of the corals found in the Caribbean are also found here, with species such as staghorn, elkhorn, star, brain, and soft corals like gorgonians, sea fans, and sea sponges. Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks, Moray eels, Hawksbill sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, lobsters, parrotfish, and many other species of reef fish are commonly seen at Molasses Reef.
Molaces Reef, Key Largo, Florida. Photo by Tracey Spencer
One of the most visited landmarks in Key Largo for divers, the massive USS Spiegel Grove is one of the largest shipwrecks in the world. It rests in 40 meters (130 feet) of water but parts of it can be reached at about 20 meters (65 feet), and the main deck is found at a depth of 25-27 meters (85-90 feet). The USS Spiegel Grove is recommended for advanced divers because of its depth and strong currents. Wreck penetration is possible but it is dangerous even for experienced wreck divers.
Quite possibly the most visited underwater attraction for divers in Key Largo, the Christ of the Abyss is a 2.5-meter (8.5 feet) statue that rests in shallow water. The site is open to both scuba divers and snorkelers, so it can get a bit crowded. The statue is covered in algae and a parch reef surrounds it. Many sea creatures like yellowtail snappers and sergeant major pass by it every day.
The Coral Restoration Foundation is the largest coral restoration organization in the world, restoring Florida’s reef for many years. The organization invented the “coral tree”, an effective technology that’s proven to be one of the best ways to grow significant amounts of corals in a short time. Scuba divers interested in making a difference can volunteer for CRF where they’ll learn how to cultivate corals, select them from the coral nursery, and bring them to their designated reef.