Florida Keys Scuba Diving

The Florida Keys start at the southern tip of Florida, at Key Largo, and stretch a hundred miles westward to Key West. I got up bright and early, had a hearty breakfast (which later proved a mistake!) and was soon on board the dive boat heading out for some Florida Keys scuba diving.

Molasses Reef is one of the larger reefs in the Florida Keys. For me, spoiled on Caribbean islands diving, the coral was a little disappointing, but the fish! They were so numerous, it was like diving in an aquarium. Blue striped grunts wherever you turned, wrasse, parrotfish, several permits lingered under rock overhangs – these fish had become almost scarce but restrictions on fishing in recent years have seen permits returning to the reef. One large fish, all head and hardly any body and tail defied identification.

As long as a diver is prepared to slow down and look more closely in the nooks and crannies, smaller fish – some very colorful indeed – can be seen going about their daily chores of feeding and defending territory. Alas, we covered too much territory ourselves and used our air too quickly. Besides being a little tired after a winter of no diving activity, the sea swells made getting back to the boat quite strenuous.

The following day we went to dive another of the Florida Keys diving sites: Pickles Reef. Bright 85°F weather gave us calm seas and an exceedingly easy dive – maximum depth 15 feet. There was the usual profusion of blue-striped grunts and sargeant majors, but this time I was looking for the smaller fish – damsels, wrasse, blennies. These small tropical fish often escape divers’ attention. Shark, barracuda and grouper are pointed out with delight but it makes a very interesting dive to occasionally ignore everything over 2″ long and investigate the miniature underwater world. Pickles reef was perfect for this close attention.

For our third dive in the Florida Keys dive, we went back to Molasses. This was the best dive I had ever had — everything fell into place perfectly. The sight of a cruising reef shark in the first couple of minutes set the tone. Then I spotted a beautiful brownish-red hogfish about 18″ in length. Hogfish are almost as tall as they are long so this fellow was most impressive. I had not seen a hogfish before and wouldn’t have recognised this one if I hadn’t been studying a fish identification book the night before. Near the end of the dive I was confronted with another hogfish, this time light grey, almost white in color. Before this, among a profusion of sargeant majors, was the largest trunkfish I had ever seen. Wow! What a dive!

Sunday morning in the Florida Keys was spent scuba diving at Freighter reef and then we headed over to the shipwreck of the Benwood.

Freighter reef is a small, less popular, reef. With so many different fish around me, I decided to see how many different species I could count, even if I couldn’t identify them all.. In one 35 minute dive, I counted 45 different species. I started off with the smaller ones — saw a half-dozen neon gobies clinging to a coral head. Protective damsels, coral beauties, shoals of blue-striped grunts, of course, but mixed in with them were yellow-tailed snappers and porkfish. Sargeant majors in lesser numbers but plentiful, hogfish again, angels, barracuda. Hiding in a crevice was a nice rock hind. And on the count went until 45 species were counted. There is the possibility that by this time I was counting the same species again, so let’s say 35 to 40 species in one dive — an impressive score, whichever way you look at it. Florida Keys scuba diving is an experience unlike any other in the United States.

At the Benwood, we expected to see some larger fish. This British freighter had run aground in 1945 and was quite broken up. It made a very easy dive as it was all done in under 40′. The larger fish presented themselves in large versions of the grunts and snappers, but swimming down the length of the wreck in full view came a pair of Atlantiic spadefish, looking just like huge white angelfish. To cap off this dive, we spotted a huge spiney lobster with a tail that would have made a meal for two people! But we left him in peace on the wreck and headed back to the boat.

Are you ready to hit the Florida Keys for some scuba diving?L