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Underwater Adventures Found Only in the Keys

Green Scene
This Green Scene story spotlights an environmentally focused attraction, event, person or place that enriches the Florida Keys

There are a million reasons to love the Florida Keys, but without the spectacular coral reefs that surround the magical place, they wouldn’t exist at all. Known worldwide for unmatched beauty, their coastal waters protected within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Keys offer underwater adventures that can’t be enjoyed anywhere except in the island chain.

Visitors can snorkel or dive on the continental United States’ only contiguous living coral barrier reef — also the third-largest barrier reef in the world — that is home to an incredibly diverse population of plants and animals and stunning coral formations.

The Florida Keys’ clear, warm waters also attract scuba aficionados ready to tie the knot at the living coral reef attended by curious tropical reef fish. The wedding party and guests can don gowns, tuxedos, boutonnières and bathing suits for a uniquely marine matrimony.

A famous Upper Keys underwater nuptial niche is the 9-foot-high shrine of “Christ of the Deep,” a 4,000-pound bronze statue within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Placed in waters adjacent to Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first undersea park, the statue is one of the most photographed underwater sites in the world. Its welcoming arms make a perfect place to exchange “I do’s.”

Divers and snorkelers can explore a portion of the iconic Keys reef while swaying to a sub-sea concert during the annual Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, traditionally staged the first Saturday after the July 4 holiday. Music is broadcast underwater via speakers suspended beneath boats moored above Looe Key Reef, an area of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary approximately 6 miles south of Big Pine Key.

The festival’s inherent message is reef preservation. The underwater broadcast incorporates diver awareness announcements emphasizing ways to enjoy the reef while minimizing impacts on the underwater environment.

Dive voluntourism is growing, and certified divers can join hands-on dive activities in underwater coral nurseries, outplanting corals to Keys reefs and monitoring the wellness of corals in existing coral colonies, as well as participating in marine debris cleanup dives along the reefs.

Multiple coral restoration organizations are engaged in an ongoing mission to preserve the coral reefs of the Florida Keys, exploring the challenges reefs are facing, what research is being done and how citizens can get actively involved. They include Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation™, the Summerland Key–based Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration field station for Mote Marine Laboratory, Reef Renewal USA and Islamorada’s I.CARE.

Each organization invites divers and snorkelers to assist with the endeavor as “citizen scientists,” illustrating the significant role community-minded divers play as stewards of the world’s oceans. Through such opportunities, divers can productively give back to the living, dynamic underwater ecosystem they enjoy.

Two unique programs spotlight Florida Keys coral reefs and shipwrecks for enthusiasts, and each offers specially created souvenir journals for participants.

Advanced or wreck-certified divers who complete at least one wreck dive with a participating dive operator receive the Florida Keys Wreck Trek logbook that lists nine of the island chain’s most iconic wreck sites: Duane, Benwood, Eagle, Thunderbolt, Adolphus Busch Senior, Cayman Salvager, Joe's Tug and two of the world’s largest shipwrecks intentionally sunk as artificial reefs — Spiegel Grove and Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Divers also can receive a personalized print of Florida Keys shipwrecks.

The Become a Reef Explorer program was designed for first-time divers and/or snorkelers, families and fun-loving adventure groups. Participants can collect validation stamps for their souvenir journal from professional dive or snorkel operators with whom they visit one or all of the coral reefs highlighted in the journal.

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The Christ of the Deep statue is one of the most photographed underwater sites in the world. Image: Stephen Frink

The Christ of the Deep statue is one of the most photographed underwater sites in the world. Image: Stephen Frink

Certified divers can join hands-on dive activities in underwater coral nurseries, outplanting corals to Keys reefs and monitoring the wellness of corals in existing coral colonies. Image: Mike Papish

Certified divers can join hands-on dive activities in underwater coral nurseries, outplanting corals to Keys reefs and monitoring the wellness of corals in existing coral colonies. Image: Mike Papish

Florida Keys Wreck Trek divers can receive a personalized print of Florida Keys shipwrecks.

Florida Keys Wreck Trek divers can receive a personalized print of Florida Keys shipwrecks.

This article was updated on July 19, 2022 at 10:34 AM
The Keys to Sustainable Travel
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