The Florida Keys are the home to the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world and is the only tropical coral reef system in the Continental United States. The reef runs the entire length of the Keys and can only be accessed by boat. Snorkeling and diving the reef is one of the larger tourist attractions in the Florida Keys.
Although the coral reef runs the entire length of the keys there are four major hotspots where most of the snorkeling and diving are done.
The first one is off Key Largo. It is The John Pennekamp State Park and Coral Reef. It is most commonly just known as “Pennekamp Reef”. Pennekamp is probably my least favorite of the four. The most well-known attraction at the Pennekamp is an 8 1/2 foot high statue of Jesus Christ with his arms raised in the air. It is pretty interesting to see but when I go diving I go to look at fish, coral and plant life. If I want to see a statue of Jesus Christ I’ll go to church.
Next is this Sombrero Lighthouse Reef. This reef is located off Marathon which is about halfway between Key Largo and Key west. They Sombrero Lighthouse Reef has a lot of sandy bottom and it’s easily accessible. It is a quick shot straight off marathon. There is an excellent assortment of fish out there but I don’t find the coral or the plant life to be as pretty as some of the other spots along the coral reef.
Next is Looe Key Reef Which is my favorite of all of the coral reef spots. Looe Key Reef is located off of the lower keys, Big Pine Key through Cudjoe Key. It is the most direct shot off Ramrod Key. Just follow your Compass a 180 degrees South setting and you will get there. Looe Key Reef has plenty of sandy bottom, a huge selection of fish, very colorful coral and great plant life. When I dive Looe Key Reef I usually like to find a nice sandy spot and sit down. Anything you will see swimming around you will also see past you if you just sit in one spot. Looe Key Reef seems to be the least visited of all of the hotspots which is, in my opinion, the reason the coral is more preserved than the other spots.
The Sand Kay lighthouse reef is located off Key West. If I had to select the area least preserved along the coral reef this would be it. With Key West being the most popular vacation spots of all of the Florida keys we have the most tourist out on the Sand Key Lighthouse Reef. Not being familiar with the Coral the tourists tend to stand on it which kills it instantly. There is nowhere near the natural beauty at Sand Key Lighthouse Reef as there is at the other spots.
No matter which part of the coral reef you select, snorkeling or diving in the Florida Keys is a great experience. There are many boats to choose from to take you out to the reef. Be sure to do your homework and select one with good ratings. Snorkeling and diving can be one of the most beautiful experiences of your life but it can also be dangerous. Make sure you select a boat with a qualified reputable captain and crew. Then, most importantly, have fun.