Dive

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Take only pictures, kill only time, leave only bubbles

 

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Start a conversation with any scuba diver. Without doubt, they have either splashed in the Florida Keys or it’s on their bucket list. There’s no debate. The Florida Keys are one of the top diving destinations in the world.

We call Islamorada an “80/80” location, where 80+ feet of visibility and 80 degree water temperatures make for normal conditions. Throughout the Keys, near-perfect weather conditions prevail year around. Come see for yourself!

Snorkling

Many consider the Middle Keys – Islamorada south to Big Pine – as the best snorkeling grounds throughout the Florida Keys. Rarely over 20 feet in depth, and most just below the surface, the Florida Keys reefs offer incredible diving without the need for scuba gear and certification.

To learn more about snorkeling options, check with Islander Watersports, located at Islamorada Outpost Oceanside. The company offers 2 hour snorkel excursions. For details, click here.

Scuba

Guy Harvey takes his diving seriously. If you’re going to be a member of the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, you have to! Suffice it to say, Guy knows what to look for in determining who offers the best and safest dive operations in the area. Our favorites include:

Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventure Dive Center. MM 90

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Guy Harvey Outpost Outfitter Captain Spencer Slate operates Captain Slates Scuba Adventures in Islamorada. Captain Slate dives Pennekamp Park and the “Wreck Treck” with the Spiegel Grove, Bibb, Duane and Eagle Wreck. No trip to the Keys is complete without diving Captain Slate’s world famous Creature Feature. His Creature Feature dive has been featured on over 60 TV shows including 60 Minutes, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The Creature Feature is available every Friday and Sunday morning. For more information on Diving the Florida Keys click here or call 800-513-5257.

Key Dives. MM 79.8

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Priding themselves by offering what they call the “Key Dives Difference”, the staff of this popular dive shop offers scuba, freediving, and snorkeling trips, as well as private charters and scuba instruction. Based at Bud N’ Mary’s, trips are an average 20 minute boat ride to most dive sites. The company guarantees a maximum of 6 divers to every one instructor or divemaster for the best in safety and personalized attention. The dive boat fleet includes a 42’ Newton that carries 25 divers (37 snorkelers), a 32’ Newton (6 passengers) and a 24’ Cat (4 divers).

For more information on Key Dives, click here.

Islamorada Dive Center. MM 84

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This PADI dive shop is the passion of Captain Eric, who traded his dry suit and frigid Michigan waters for the tropics of Islamorada. His credentials include: PADI Master Instructor, Rebreather Instructor, Spearfishing Instructor, US Coast Guard Captain, Author of “Spearfishing the Upper Keys” and the PADI specialty class, “Underwater Hunter.” Some 40 dive sites are visited as conditions permit, with favorites including The Eagle wreck, Hens and Chickens Reef, Crocker Wall, and Davis Reef. The dive boat fleet includes a 35 ft custom dive boat that accommodates 10 divers.

For more information on Islamorada Dive Center, click here.

Conch Republic Divers MM 91

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Conch Republic Divers is the personification of Captain Gary, a USCG Master Captain, SDI IT Staff Instructor, PADI, and SSI Master Dive Instructor, Full Cave Diver, Evolution CCR diver, and SSI Platinum Pro 5000 recipient. Gary is a Florida native with over 40 years of diving experience. Ranked the dive operation in the area according to Yelp.com, the company prides itself on the quality of its compressed air, submitting samples to an independent lab every 90 days and posting the results in the dive shop. In addition to a comprehensive recreational dive program, including PADI certification instruction, CRD offers one of the most extensive technical diving programs in the country under the direction of famed diver Richie Kohler, producer of “Deep Sea Detectives” and author of the bestseller “Shadow Divers”. CRD’s expertise in technical diving makes this the go-to shop for divers looking for top-of-class wreck diving on the Spiegel Grove, Duane, Bibb and Eagle wrecks. The fleet includes a 46’ Newton and a 30’ custom dive boat.

For more information on Conch Republic Divers, click here.

Dive Sites
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There’s an amazing number of dive sites in and around Islamorada. We’d be lying if we said we knew them all as well as some shops that specialize in cataloguing and ranking dive sites. One of the more extensive libraries of Florida dive sites is compiled by American Dive Institute. We’ve listed below some of the Islamorada sites that they highlight for visiting. For their complete list, click here.

 

Alligator Reef

Located 6 miles south-southwest of Windley Key and ranging in depths from 8 to 40 feet, this is an excellent dive for novice divers as well as those wanting photo opportunities of marine life. Mooring buoys make this dive very accessible. This is a SPA (Sanctuary Preserve Area) which covers .2 nautical miles. Alligator Reef is among the largest reef systems in the Upper Keys and is designated as a SPA area (Sanctuary Preserve Area). The original ship, the USS Alligator, was destroyed by her crew after running aground. The only real remains to be seen are 2 piles of ballast rocks. The 136 foot lighthouse tower on Windley Key is a good point of reference to find the site. Mooring buoys near the most popular part of the reef make anchoring easy. Nearby is Alligator Gulley which is a great site for spotting marine life and several species of coral.

In the 1960s a study was done in the area around Alligator Reef and more than 500 different species of marine life were found and cataloged. Corals and tropical fish are abundant.

GPS N 24° 51.779′ W 080° 37.339′
Avg Depth 20 FT 6 M
Max Depth 72 FT 22 M

Brick Barge

Lying in about 25-30 feet of water on the north side of Hen and Chickens Reef, this old iron ship is a haven for marine life and is a really nice novice or photographers dive site. This barge was torpedoed during WWII. Large brain coral and lots of tropical fish live around this site. This is a really nice spot for underwater photography.

 

GPS N 24° 56.070′ W 080° 32.980′
Avg Depth 20 FT 6 M
Max Depth 28 FT 9 M

Cheeca Rocks

Located 3 miles south-southwest of Windley Key, one mile directly off Upper Matecumbe, and this SPA designated site is great for novice divers, snorkelers and those wanting some incredible underwater photo opportunities. This is a heavily used spot and considered one of the most beautiful in the area. Turtles, conch, beautiful tropical fish and the occasional nurse shark. Be aware that due to its location as a protection area for the inshore patch reefs, it is designated as a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA). Great site for the whole family.

GPS N 24° 54.245′ W 080° 36.885′
Avg Depth 10 FT 3 M
Max Depth 15 FT 5 M

Conch Reef

Located 5.5 miles south of Tavern Key and 8 miles east of Windley Key this site ranges in depth from 20 to 100 feet. Designated a SPA site (Sanctuary Preservation Area) this is one of the most developed coral reef systems in the Florida Keys. Be aware some areas are marked for research access only. Currents from moderate to strong can change this into a drift dive. Mooring buoys make this an easy site to access. The Conch Wall slopes from 50 to 110 feet and has barrel sponges, rare pillar coral, basket sponges, thousands of conch shells and some larger marine life. Year-round good visibility makes this a superior dive site. Although the Aquarius Habitat is located within the system, it is off limits at this time.

GPS N 24° 57.110′ W 080° 27.564′
Avg Depth 50 FT 15 M

Crocker Reef

Ranging in depth from 35 to 110 feet this area has no mooring buoys so anchor in the nearby sandy area. Great corals, small canyons, crevices and a large variety of tropical fish make this a dive to suit even the novice diver. This is a large natural reef formation that offers the chance to view some beautiful marine life. Staghorn coral, swaying fan type corals and perhaps a chance to view the rare black coral. Rays, turtles and lots of tropical fish populate this reef area. Novice divers should watch their depths as there is a drop-off from 55 to 90 feet more suited for the advanced SCUBA diver. The Crocker Shallows is the perfect area for the novice divers – lots to see and photograph.

GPS N 24° 54.151′ W 080° 31.843′
Avg Depth 30 FT 9 M

Crocker Wall

Ranging in depth from 35 to 110 feet this area has no mooring buoys so anchor in the nearby sandy area. Great corals, small canyons, crevices and a large variety of tropical fish make this a dive to suit even the novice diver. This is a large natural reef formation that offers the chance to view some beautiful marine life. Staghorn coral, swaying fan type corals and perhaps a chance to view the rare black coral. Rays, turtles and lots of tropical fish populate this reef area. Novice divers should watch their depths as there is a drop-off from 55 to 90 feet more suited for the advanced SCUBA diver. The Crocker Shallows is the perfect area for the novice divers – lots to see and photograph.

 

GPS N 24° 54.240′ W 080° 31.596′
Avg Depth 65 FT 20 M
Max Depth 80 FT 24 M

Davis Ledge

Located 3 miles east-southeast of Hen and Chickens this Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) site is perfect for the novice diver or those just beginning night dives. A large Buddha statue makes a great photo opportunity. A nice shallow dive spot especially nice if you want to finish certifications. The SPA area is rectangular and is currently used for preservation of deepwater corals. The area is marked off by yellow buoys. Large schools of baitfish, moray eels, nurse sharks, parrotfish and angelfish are frequently spotted. The large Buddha statue invites divers to rub his belly for luck!

 

GPS N 24° 55.320′ W 080° 30.366′
Avg Depth 20 FT 6 M
Max Depth 55 FT 17 M

Eagle

Located off Lower Matecumbe Key in 110 feet of water, this wreck is a thriving artificial reef. Due to high visibility this dive can be good for divers from novice to advanced SCUBA and certified wreck divers. Mooring buoys at bow and stern make anchorage easy. Be aware of strong currents in the area. Amazing variety of marine life. Obtained by the Eagle Tire Co. and with the help of the local businesses, this freighter was cleaned and had holes opened up along her sides for diver access to the interior and was sunk to form an artificial reef. A smokestack, the crow’s nest and mast are still intact. The top of the profile lies at 40 feet and by 65 feet you can see the whole wreck. Sponges, corals, spiny oysters and many varieties of fish make the area their home. Some stronger currents can make this dive a bit more challenging for the novice, but should cause no real hardship.

 

GPS N 24° 52.184′ W 080° 34.217′
Avg Depth 80 FT 24 M
Max Depth 110 FT 34 M

Hen & Chickens Reef

A shallow natural reef, this area is well known in the diving community as a shallow dive or snorkeling site that everyone enjoys. Spectacular corals in this patch reef have been compared to a forest of purple trees. This is a SPA site (Sanctuary Preservation Area). Please use mooring buoys. The site gets its name from the appearance from the air of the “mother hen” surrounded with her smaller chicks. Brain coral and Star coral as well as Sea Fans and Christmas Tree corals make this a fantastic site for photography. A site for the whole family, with diving and snorkeling, you must respect the coral and not physically impact them in any way. No spearfishing, shell collecting or tropical fish collecting is allowed in this Sanctuary (SPA) area.

 

GPS N 24° 55.900′ W 080° 32.900′
Avg Depth 15 FT 5 M
Max Depth 22 FT 7 M
More Dive Site Information

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If we haven’t yet exhausted your interest in Islamorada dive sites, or want more opinions, another source is DiveSpots.com. To visit their compilation of local sites, click here.