Diving the Shallow Water Reefs in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys is a great place for diving, with a variety of shallow reefs that are perfect for novices. The reefs offer a range of depths, from 15 to 40 feet, and are teeming with fish and coral. Some of the most popular reefs in the Upper Keys are the Christ of the Deep statue in Key Largo, French Reef in Islamorada, Alligator Reef in Marathon, and Sombrero Reef in Marathon.

Lower Keys divers have the crew of the British frigate H.M.S. Looe to thank for one of the world's most beautiful shallow reefs. The Looe ran aground in 1744, lending its name to a reef that's like no other in the Keys. Looe Key, a spur-and-groove reef formation rather than an actual key, features dives ranging from 5 to 35 feet covering novice through advanced experience levels. Perhaps the greatest diversity of fish species in the Keys is found among the corals and sea fans of Looe Key.

Offshore from America's southernmost city, Key West, lie Rock Key and the Eastern Dry Rocks. Divers of all experience levels are welcome in the area's 5- to 35-foot depths. These areas feature coral fingers with sand and corals in between.

Eastern Dry Rocks Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) contains a concentration of important bank reef habitats within a small area and ranges in depth from five to 35 feet. Eastern Dry Rocks is located a half-mile east of Rock Key SPA. Rock Key SPA is typical of most reef formations in the area, with a rubble zone and long fingers of coral with sand and coral-filled canyons.

Key West also offers a shallow wreck dive. The Amesbury, locally known as Alexander's Wreck, was built as a U.S. Naval destroyer escort in 1943 and was later converted to a high-speed transport vessel. While the vessel was being towed to deep water to be sunk as an artificial reef, it grounded and broke up in a storm before it could be refloated. It is broken into two sections 200 yards apart, it lies 5 miles west of Key West in 25 feet of water as part of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail maintained by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.