Key Largo FL: A Gem Among the Florida Keys

by MasterDayton

Looking to get away? Key Largo, Florida is a fascinating destination with a lot to offer individuals and families alike.

Key Largo is a gem even among the often glamorized Florida Keys. From underwater weddings to world class saltwater sports fishing to some of the best scuba diving in North America - this may be as close to a "for everyone" dream destination as you can get!

An Introduction to Key Largo

Nothing like a Key Largo virtual tour

Key Largo boasts a position at the very top of the Florida Keys, and not without good cause has been named the Dive Capital of the World.  With the combination of reefs, wrecks, and the legendary Christ of the Abyss Statue, Key Largo is a key location to reach some of the best dive sites in the southern states.  Likewise, the water is almost always warm and has great visibility in the shallow depths.  These clear, shallow waters and the largest living coral reef structure are two causes for the rich biodiversity of the waters off of Key Largo Florida Keys.  Just as impressive as the marine life so abundant in Key Largo are the myriad of species of flora and fauna protected by the various game reserves that mark off areas of Key Largo.

Key Largo is not strictly a conservationist island; for that matter none of the Florida Keys fall into that category.  Rather, Key Largo and the Florida Keys have managed to strike a harmonious balance between preserving their fish and wildlife while at the same time catering to the needs and wants of thousands of tourists every year.  What could be damaged simply by sheer numbers of people is carefully maintained.  Thus year after year, tourists can still snorkel and dive among the reefs, dozens of species of game fish from the sea, bike along the overseas highway, and enjoy all the fun and sun that Key Largo and the Florida Keys can offer.

Some Great Books on Key Largo

Great Key Largo guides to help plan your Florida Keys vacation
Frommer's South Florida: With the Best of Miami and the Keys (Frommer's Complete Guides)

Author Lesley Abravanel lives and works in Miami as a gossip columnist for the Miami Herald, so she knows the Florida scene, what's hot and what's not, which restaurants the cel...

$18.99  $1.43
Histories & Mysteries: The Shipwrecks of Key Largo (Diversification series)

Key Largo, Florida, is one of the most popular dive travel destinations in the United States, perhaps in the world. There are at least 1,000 shipwrecks; most of these shipwrecks...

Only $12.95
Key Largo & the Upper Florida Keys (Travel Adventures)

"The introduction to this guide contains general information about the history, land, climate, flora, and fauna. This introductory chapter also includes an outline of the range ...

Hidden Florida Keys and Everglades: Including Key Largo and Key West (Hidden Travel)

EXPLORE THE HIDDEN REALM•Lose the tourist crowds gator-watching in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary•Savor a piece of luscious homemade Key lime pie at Mangrove Mama’s•Watch the fire-re...

Scuba Diving in Key Largo, Florida

As Key Largo is called the Dive Capital of the World it is worthwhile to know why, and this can be summed up in three words, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!  The waters of Key Largo offer near-tropical conditions that are conveniently located within driving distance of Miami.  There are also scores of dive sites scattered near Key Largo.  Many of these Key Largo dive sites are accessible to all, requiring only a PADI open water certification.  Even if a diver is not certified, many of these dive sites serve as ideal for open water testing.  Other of these dives requires a greater degree of certification to ensure the safety of the diver.  By nature of their depth or underwater hazards, some dive sites require an Advanced Open Water Certification or a Wreck Diver Certification.  Below are listed some of the most popular Key Largo dive sites and a quick word on how these sites came to be:

Key Largo Wreck Dives

Some of the best wreck diving in the Florida Keys

USS Duane:  This ship was a former Coast Guard cutter, commissioned and launched back in 1936 for use in search and rescue as well as law enforcement.  She was christened after William John Duane, the Secretary of the Treasury under Andrew Jackson.  She was laid to rest in 1987 to promote the growth of coral reef.  Her sister ship, the USS Bibb, rests near her.

USS Bibb:  Commissioned in 1937, the USS Bibb was employed in the services of both WWII and the Vietnam War.  Among her achievements, she ran escort missions during World War II and participated in the invasion of Okinawa.  She rests in roughly 130 feet of water, though some structures are accessed around 100 feet deep.

USS Spiegel Grove:  The Spiegel Grove typically receives more attention in Key Largo Simply for her immense size.  She is in fact one of the largest military vessels intentionally sunk for the purpose of coral production.  The Spiegel Grove was sunk in 1989 and rests between roughly 60 and 130 feet of water.

Some Good Scuba Diving Guides

Great preparation for your Key Largo diving trip
Scuba Diving - 4th Edition

Scuba Diving provides a clear, thorough, and captivating learning experience for all who want to take the plunge. Packed with beautiful full-color photographs and detailed divin...

$28.95  $11.83
The Scuba Snobs' Guide to Diving Ettiquette

"The Scuba Snobs’ Guide to Diving Etiquette is filled with humorous to hilarious stories illustrating the need for “rules” of etiquette for scuba divers, above and below the wat...

Key Largo Reef Dives

Key Largo reef dives are typically more accessible to scuba divers by virtue of the fact that they are located in shallower waters.  That stated, reef diving is not without unique challenges of its own.  Coral is actually a living organism and caution must be taken not to damage it.  Coral reefs serve as shelter and feeding grounds for scores of both solitary and school game fish, and even the reef formations and caves can provide a visual feast for the eyes.

The Grecian Rocks:  The Grecian Rocks range in depth from about 4 feet (shallow enough for snorkelers) down to 25 feet making it an ideal dive location for novice divers.  Two types of coral abound here, Elkhorn coral and Star coral.  Keep an eye open for an old Spanish cannon and the scores of tropical fish (some of which like to be hand-fed)

The French Reef:  The French Reef is considered to be one of the milder reef dives of Key Largo as it sits protected from strong currents.  Divers and snorkelers alike will be greeted with manta rays and hammerhead sharks among some of the eye-popping marine life in sight.

Molasses Reef:  Molasses Reef in a word is a cornucopia of marine life.  It is documented to be the home of some 600 species of coral, fish, and plant life.

 

Key Largo Coral Reef Restoration

Not every visitor to Key Largo is qualified to participate in their coral reef restoration project.  To qualify, a scuba diver must be open water certified and must demonstrate good buoyancy control.  Coral restoration is in many cases considered a specialty certification, involving up to three days of classroom work and the requisite dive time necessary to “plant” the coral.  Coral is grown in nurseries and transplanted into depleted reefs to bring life back to a reef.  Coral is a very fragile organism and can be easily damaged.  Therefore, divers working on coral restoration in Key Largo are given the classroom training to ensure that their good intentions are matched with good works, and that they do not further damage the very coral in which they are intent to save.

Looking at Key Largo Eco Tours

Among a similar vein of enjoyment to Key Largo scuba diving and snorkeling are Key Largo Eco Tours.  Just as a snorkeler or diver must be aware of their actions underwater and take care not to cause harm either to the reefs or their inhabitants, that same basis of observation and concern is necessary of the conservationist to perform their work and find a way for others to enjoy it as well.  Whether taking a tour of the backcountry with a minimal carbon footprint or partaking in planting coral in a coral reef farm, there is plenty for an eco-tourist to enjoy in Key Largo above and below the waves.

Key Largo Eco Diving

Visit the amazing coral reefs of Key Largo up and personal

Equally as important as coral restoration are some of the efforts in which a diver can participate in Key Largo Eco Diving.  Key Largo Eco Dives are again subject to the requisite diving experience, but participating in any of those dives opens up the great possibility of changing the way in which the underwater world is viewed.  As a simple tourist or as a scientist, the diver will learn to sharpen their powers of observation and thus learn to “see” more of every dive.  Some of the many activities that a Key Largo eco diver may participate in include:

  • Fish Monitoring
  • Fish Identification
  • Disease Monitoring
  • Coral Bleaching

Data collected by the divers is carefully recorded and submitted to Mote Marine Laboratory for further study.

Key Largo Kayaking and Sailing

Proving that above the waves can be just as fun as below the waves, Key Largo kayaking and sailing provides a number of fun and adventure for the vacationer wanting to stay above the waves rather than under them.

Because kayaks require no motor and hence no gasoline, these streamlined watercraft are chiefly valued by conservationists and anyone wanting to minimize their environmental impact.  Among the waterways of the backcountry and the Everglades, kayaks reign supreme with their shallow draft and narrow profile.  The kayak proves equally stable in deep water as it does in the extreme shallows, and it can squeeze in the tight spaces between mangroves.  Likewise with a careful paddle, these craft are virtually silent so even noise pollution is negligible.  It is for this reason that many anglers prefer these for stealth hunts.

To learn a skill that utilizes both physical and mental agility, vacationers may also learn to sail in Key Largo.  Naturally, learning to sail like most other sports can be considered a life-long endeavor, but there are folks down in Key Largo happy to help a person master the basics.  These basics lay the groundwork for a novice sailor, if they wish, to pursue their American Sailing Association certification.

Key Largo Lobster Fishing and Spear Fishing

No discussion of Key Largo could ever be complete without at least a brief mention of the unique fishing opportunities that abound in the waters surrounding Key Largo; Key Largo lobster fishing and spear fishing.  For the anglers that love the idea of keeping what they catch, or catching dinner, Key Largo lobstering and spear fishing is the best of many worlds.  And with advent of the lobster mini-season, lobster and spear fishers have a head start on the commercial lobster fishing season.  The lobster mini-season in Key Largo Florida takes place every year on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July.  The commercial lobster season begins in August.  While lobsters may be caught during any part of the season, it is the mini-season which garners the most attention.

Spear fishing in Key Largo is carefully regulated as it is in all parts of coastal Florida.  Here are just a few of the general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Objects appear up to 25% larger underwater, so be sure your quarry is regulation size
  • Recreational hunters are required to have a valid Florida Saltwater Fishing License
  • Spear fishing is prohibited in many areas of the Florida Keys, as they are protected state parks or protected through other regulations.

Since these can be frustrating to keep track of, it may be worth the money to hire a Key Largo lobster charter to take you to the permitted lobster and spear fishing spots that will be the most productive hunting grounds.

Updated: 04/15/2012, MasterDayton
 
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