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Key West Scuba Diving Spots

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There are several Key West scuba diving spots that are worth mentioning. Key West in the Florida Keys is the southernmost city in the United States. The Keys offers several scuba diving spots that are much loved by locals and tourists alike.

The Florida keys are like a little slice of heaven because of the variety of aquatic life below the surface. The National Marine Sanctuary’s living barrier reef is the world’s third-largest and has a variety of colorful fish and marine plants.

an example of key west scuba diving with coral reefs and a scuba diver in blue water

Key West is home to many diving and snorkeling locations. The Vandenburg, for example, is a well-known shipwreck and home to hundreds of sea turtles. Entry-level divers should visit Sand Key, which is 7 miles southwest of Key West.

Scuba diving excursions and gear rentals may be booked through numerous dive shops and vendors, including Dive Key West in the Lower Keys and Adventure Water Sports.

If you’re a visiting diver, use this article as your guide to some of the best spots for Key West diving.

Before You Dive These Dive Sites

In the Florida Keys, all divers are required to purchase a permit. Groups of more than six people also need an additional cost per person.

Check all scuba equipment before going out on an excursion to make sure your gear fits you well and will help you move around without too much trouble.

The Best Time to Dive These Key West Scuba Diving Spots

an example of a Key west scuba diving spot with green waters and blue skies

The best time to scuba dive in Key West is year-round! May, however, is the start of summer and the air and water temperatures are most pleasant for those who aren’t as used to the chilly waters. Best of all, there is higher visibility and thus a higher chance of seeing dolphins and manatees!

Are you interested in doing night dives? You can do night diving, but you will need a special permit from the park rangers.

Dive Key West Inner Reefs, Outer Reefs, and Wreck Dives to See Marine Life

an example of marine life and fish at key west scuba diving spots

The best places to scuba dive in Key West are the Inner and Outer Reefs and Wrecks. These sites feature a variety of aquatic life, such as dolphins, lobsters, nurse sharks, and stingrays.

Inner reefs are shallower than outer reefs. If you’re new to the sport, try sticking to the inner reefs first before moving on. With depths of 3-30 feet, you are guaranteed maximum dive time!

The outer reefs are about 35-45 feet deep. There’s a good chance you will spot lobsters and other sea life here, so take your time to look around during your dive.

Wrecks are great for those who want to go diving in the Florida Keys because there’s a lot of wildlife here as well, plus the wreckage adds a certain level of intrigue that can be fun and challenging.

Here are some of the top dive sites in Key West to check out.

Pigeon Key

The Pigeon Key is a great place for scuba diving. This small island has so much history behind it. It’s part of the Middle Keys and can be reached by boat.

It’s an ideal place to explore because the island is small. There are plenty of things to see beneath the surface as well, with corals and marine life.

Dramatically different from what you will see at other dive sites, this location will give you memories to last a lifetime!

Molasses Reef

underwater at Molasses Reef while Key west scuba diving

Another shallow dive like Pigeon Key, most divers would agree that Molasses Reef is one of the top diving spots off the Upper Keys for beginners.

The most sought-after creature to spot on Molasses Reef are the sea turtles; however, you can also see living coral and tropical fish. You could spot the endangered massive but harmless Goliath Grouper here.

Sambos Reef

A collection of 3 coral reefs named Eastern, Middle, and Western Sambo, Sambos Reef is located near Sombrero Reef. The reefs are home to abundant fish life and even lobster!

The reef is shallow primarily, but depths range from 5-60 feet, so you’ll be able to see everything up close without too much trouble.

It’s also relatively easy to access since it’s located about three nautical miles west of Marquesas Keys in an average depth of 10 feet.

Seahorses often appear around this area, but if you’re lucky, you might come across a nurse shark as well!

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (Florida Reef)

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is located at the lowest points of the island and is home to some of the most vibrant soft and hard corals you’ll ever see! It is also the third-largest barrier reef globally, so it’s worth checking out while you’re here.

underwater view of of coral reefs in Key west with colorful fish and coral

You can expect to see some larger fish here since this area is full of life thanks to its abundant supply of nutrients which attract marine life from all over the Atlantic Ocean. With its deeper waters, it’s a fantastic place for Key West advanced divers!

Joe’s Tugboat

This is an artificial reef created in the memory of a former lobster fisherman.

The name Joe’s Tug comes from the tugboat he used to run back in the early 1960s, which has now become home to large marine life.

Joe’s Tug also happens to be one of the best Key West scuba diving spots for a less-experienced diver since it doesn’t get too deep, and there is no current present on most days.

Looe Key Reef

a sea turtle underwater at Looe Key Reef in Key West

The Looe Key Reefs in the Lower Keys was named after a frigate. These reefs are a beautiful hour-and-a-half drive south from Key Largo or a half-hour drive north from Key West, where you’ll find dives for all skill levels.

The shallow reefs and brilliant white sand beaches of Looe Key Reefs provide excellent lighting for underwater photography. Beautiful corals and numerous aquatic life will entice divers and snorkelers alike. You might even encounter one of the huge resident goliath groupers.

There are mooring buoys for sea vessels to tie up to, which help protect the ecosystem.

West Carysfort Reef

West Carysfort Reef has coral formations reaching about 50 feet in depth. It is home to hundreds of different fish species and significant marine life.

This area also happens to be one where you’ll see many nurse sharks, so if you ever wanted the chance to get up close and personal with these creatures – here’s your opportunity!

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located 36 miles south of Key Largo, is one of several artificial reefs. It is known for its abundance of coral reefs, which extend over 100 nautical miles! It’s home to about 70% of Florida’s coral reefs, making it a hot spot for scuba divers looking to explore protected habitats.

The park spans 2,000 acres and has two underwater preserves perfect for reef diving.

Vandenberg Wreck

fish underwater at the Vandenberg Wreck a great place for Key West scuba diving

Complete your Florida Keys Wreck Trek! Vandenberg Wreck diving is a must! This sunken ship was once a missile tracking ship until it was intentionally sunk in 2009 as part of an artificial reef program by the National Marine Sanctuary and its partners.

It is considered the Southern anchor of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail. It’s classified as an advanced dive with depths ranging from 15 feet to 80 feet.

USS Spiegel Grove Wreck

the spiegel grove wreck underwater, a key west scuba diving spot

A really popular Key largo location for beginner scuba divers – USS Spiegel Grove Wreck is a man-made reef that was once a U.S. Navy landing ship until it was sunk in 2002.

This wreck sits 6 miles off Key Largo. At 130 feet below sea level, you can expect to have some pretty good encounters with marine life while exploring the waters around here!

Cayman Salvage Master

The tall stern of Cayman Salvage Master was built in 1936 and measures 187 feet. It was first sunk in the Key West Navy Harbor in the late 1970s. In April 1985, she was re-floated, the entire superstructure was removed. It was sunk again as an artificial reef.

The Cayman Salvager provides excellent training opportunities for new scuba divers since you can descend up to 60 feet. Still, there isn’t any penetration allowed, so you can’t explore inside areas such as below deck or inside cabins, etc.

Home to the Goliath Grouper and large Moray Eels, National Geographic rates this area as one of the top 10 world-class wreck diving sites!

Big Pine Key

Big Pine Key is an excellent spot for beginners. This has a living coral reef and a sand bottom. It is home to eagle rays, blacktip reef sharks, tarpon fish, barracuda, and other tropical fish that are all known to frequent this part of the ocean.

Big Pine Key is a protected area for sea life and means that these creatures are abundant, making for some pretty spectacular scuba diving experiences!

The Best Key West Scuba Diving Spots

We’ve given you some of the top spots to scuba dive in Key West, Florida. For beginners or experienced divers, this is one destination you want to consider since there’s a variety of wildlife that can be encountered. You also have the opportunity to see incredible marine creatures up close.

Go on these Florida Keys dive trips and see for yourself how truly unique these diving and snorkeling spots are! Go and dive Key West!

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