Opened in 2005 in Islamorada, the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum is a unique 3,000-square-foot showcase of interactive exhibits. It’s also a valuable educational resource through its free “Immerse Yourself!” and “Dive Into History!” public programs — starring maritime and dive experts who help tell the story of people’s attempts to explore, understand and venture under the sea.

kids at Islamorada diving museum

Hannah Samples (left) watches her brother Jack Samples have his photo taken in an antique diving helmet at the History of Diving Museum. (All photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Everyone who loves the ocean is invited to attend the museum’s popular and informal “Immerse Yourself!” presentations (which are well worth attending!). They’re held the third Wednesday of each month and explore topics like marine and mammal life, treasure divers, artists who’ve been inspired by diving, and much more.

The museum doesn’t even charge admission for these fascinating lectures (though donations to benefit the facility and its programs are much appreciated).

One of the recent sessions featured famed underwater photographers Carlos and Allison Estape. Named 2013 REEF Volunteers of the Year for their reef survey dives and educational “fishinars” in Key Largo, they offered fish identification tips on typical species visitors might see at underwater sites in the Florida Keys — a great learning experience to make dive and snorkel excursions even more meaningful.

A special two-day “Dive into History!” event is set for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17-18. Themed “Helmets in History,” the weekend program will kick off with a presentation by Dr. Sally Bauer.

Dr. Sally, a Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee, is an amazing person who co-founded the museum with her late husband, Dr. Joe Bauer. In her discussion, she’ll cover the unique role South Florida played in the launch of sport and recreational diving from the early 1910s through the 1930s.

Underwater enthusiasts can also enjoy an afternoon boat dive with Amoray Dive Resort — owned and operated by another Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee, Amy Slate. Plus guests can stay at Amy’s resort for a catered viewing party for Key Largo’s annual lighted boat parade, a fun-filled procession on the evening of Dec. 17.

In addition, a Sunday morning dive with Amoray is scheduled on Dec. 18. But even that’s not the end of the weekend. Families can dive in for fun activities during “Santa Sunday,” scheduled from 1-3 p.m. at the museum, and (this might be the best part!) get a photo taken with Diving Santa.

Jack Samples (left) and J.R. Samples listen to narration showcasing 45 historical dive helmets from 24 countries at the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jack Samples (left) and J.R. Samples listen to narration showcasing 45 historical dive helmets from around the globe at the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada.

A few days later, on Dec. 21, the museum is offering a presentation by Mike Beach from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. He will delve into the intriguing world of marine archeology — a field that opens up a whole new realm of underwater adventure.

FYI, the evening “Immerse Yourself!” programs are held in the museum’s Bauer Diving History Research Library, which contains rare research material.

But even if you can’t attend any of the programs, the History of Diving Museum is a must-see attraction in a region whose surrounding waters are home to the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef. The facility is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except major holidays) at mile marker 83 bayside in Islamorada.

Museum visitors can discover interactive exhibits spanning an incredible 4,000 years of undersea exploration — including one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of diving artifacts from more than 30 countries.

Among the collection’s treasures are some of the earliest diving machines (like a full-scale replica of an all-wood diving bell) and the Parade of Nations, an unparalleled collection of historic hard-hat dive helmets from 25 countries.