Our dive sites
Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary reef:
The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary reef is the most popular, well known dive site in our area. Some consider it the best reef in all the Florida Keys! This reef is a spur and groove formation, meaning it is made up of reef fingers with sand channels in between, which makes it amazing to explore. It has some of the best coral formations in the Keys, with an abundance and diversity of life that is unbeatable. This area is fully protected, meaning there is no touching or taking of any kind allowed. No fishing, spearfishing, lobstering, collecting, and because of the many mooring balls, no anchoring on the reef. This has allowed the reef to flourish and made Looe Key a shining example of the beauty of coral reefs in the Keys. It ranges in depth from 15-30 feet on the outer reef area and can get as shallow as 5-6 feet on the inside area, which makes it perfect for both divers and snorkelers. It is our most requested dive, and also where we do most of the dive training in our courses. This site is suitable for beginners, and rarely has very limited visibilty or notable currents.
Our favorite drift dive is a site we call Dusty’s wall and is something of a local secret spot. We are the only dive shop that dives it. This site is a beautiful reef wall that begins around 60 feet and ends at almost 110 feet with a nearly vertical drop off in some spots. The wall has massive, towering coral formations jutting out from it and under hangs, caves, and holes throughout, as well as large sand chutes, and a sloping, amphitheater like bowl at one section. As far as reef dives go, this site is the clear staff favorite and second to none. There is a large resident goliath grouper (Dusty) and tons of other species of fish, inverts, corals, sponges, and all other kinds of reef life. This is easily the most biodiverse deep reef that we dive, and unlike anything else we’ve found in the area. This dive is intermediate to advanced, and can sometimes have limited visibility and medium to strong surface or bottom currents.
Swiss army reef:
This reef sits in between Looe Key and American shoal and is named for the fact that is has a little bit of everything to offer. It sits between 30 and 50 feet in depth and is a prominent ledge reef that runs north to south, turning into a field of large coral formations at the end, with a flat sandy area to the west. The sloping ledge offers close to 30 feet of total relief from top to bottom, and has many large and interesting coral mounds, sand chutes, and coral field areas to explore. It is home to tons of marine life, and we often see schools of surgeonfish, large grouper, nurse sharks, lobster, angelfish, and more. This site is a staff favorite, and one of our most visited sites due to the interesting reef formation, life, and comfortable depth that will suit almost anyone. This site is beginner to intermediate, and can occasionally have limited visibility and some mild to medium current.
American shoal is located a few miles West/Southwest of Looe Key on the reef line, and is known for the large historical lighthouse that sits in the shallowest area of the shoal, rising 110 feet in the air. It’s construction was completed in 1880, and although it is no longer in use it remains a prominent landmark. Surrounding the lighthouse is a beautiful reef, made up of a mixture of spur and groove and patch reef formations. Most of the reef is in anywhere from 10-30 feet of water. American shoal has many interesting fingers, coral mounds, and rock formations covered in hard and soft corals, sea fans, and sponges, and is home to an abundance of marine life. It is a great shallow reef area to lobster and spearfish, or just to snorkel and explore an area like Looe Key but without the crowds. We have several different dive sites within the American shoal area, all of which offer their own unique view of this amazing reef. This is our most common site for spearfishing, lobstering, and lionfish charters or for divers and snorkelers interested in exploring a lesser known, less crowded local reef. This site is suitable for beginners, and rarely has very limited visibilty or notable currents.
American Shoal deep reef line/Kens spot:
In addition to Dusty’s wall, we have several other sections of deep reef with large coral formations, dramatic sloping reefs, fields of coral heads and tons of interesting marine life available for drift dives. At the east end of the deep reef line off American shoal is Ken’s spot, a deep reef in the 60-100 foot range notable for large coral mounds on a sloping bottom and home to massive amounts of life, schooling fish, and large grouper and snapper. Towards the west end of the reef line off American Shoal is a long stretch of reef that we call American Shoal deep. This area is roughly one mile long and sits anywhere from 45 feet to 100 feet with a varied bottom topography. There are sloping sections as well as flat areas with fields of coral heads, sand chutes and channels, and everything in between. The deep sites we visit depend on the group interest, ability, and daily conditions but no matter where we take you, we promise to show you some of the best deep reef diving in the Keys. These dives are intermediate to advanced, and can sometimes have limited visibility and medium to strong surface or bottom currents.
Looe Key deep:
Looe Key deep is an area of beautiful deep reef that sits to the southwest of the Looe Key sanctuary reef. This area ranges in depth from 40-100 feet and has gradual sloping areas and flat areas with fields of coral heads and mounds, as well as sloping reef that descends relatively rapidly but is not quite a wall. This area is home to an extension of the beautiful biodiversity that the Looe Key sanctuary is known for and is home to an abundance of all kinds of marine life. It is the only deep reef in our area that has several mooring balls available for securing boats without needing to anchor, and so it is our reef of choice for doing instruction in deep water as part of our dive courses. While not in the sanctuary, it is inside the boundaries of the Looe Key EMA or “existing management area” and spearfishing is not permitted at any time. This dive is beginner to intermediate or advanced, and can sometimes have limited visibility and mild to medium or strong surface or bottom currents, depending on conditions.
Local Wreck sites:
Adolphus Busch Sr. wreck:
Our “home” wreck in the lower keys is the Adolphus Busch Sr. Wreck, a 210-foot cargo ship now resting upright on a sand bottom in a max depth of 110 feet, just off the reef line in between Looe Key and the American Shoal lighthouse. The top of her superstructure can be accessed at approximately 75 feet, and her deck lies at around 95 feet. She is accessed by two mooring balls, anchored to the ship’s bow and stern. This is our most visited wreck site and is home to many species of fish including several large goliath grouper and often massive schools of jacks, permit, and African pompano can be seen cruising around above the deck. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of Caribbean reef or blacktip sharks, rays, and one of our staff as even seen a small-tooth sawfish at this wreck! This dive is intermediate to advanced, and can sometimes have limited visibility, medium to strong surface or bottom currents, and the usual shipwreck hazards such as overhead environments, entanglement, and sharp edges/rough surfaces.
Key West Wrecks:
Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenburg wreck:
The Vandenburg is a massive, awe-inspiring 522-foot former troop transport/missile tracking ship. She rests upright on a sand bottom in around 150 feet of water, with the main deck at roughly 95-100 feet. Home to many large goliath grouper, massive schools of jacks, permit and African pompano, tons of snapper, other grouper species, hogfish, sharks, turtles, and hundreds of barracuda being just the highlights, this wreck is a sight to behold and the clear staff favorite. With 5 mooring balls to choose from, she is too large to see in one dive and can be double dipped. This dive is intermediate to advanced or technical, and can sometimes have limited visibility, medium to strong surface or bottom currents, and the usual shipwreck hazards such as overhead environments, entanglement, and sharp edges/rough surfaces, as well as deep water beyond recreational diving limits.
Cayman Salvage Master/Cayman Salvager wreck:
The Cayman Salvager is a 187-foot buoy tender resting upright in a max depth of around 90 feet, with the open deck accessible around 75 feet. She is accessed by two mooring buoys at the bow and stern. Home to goliath and other grouper species, moray eels, large schools of jacks and creole wrasse, as well as many snapper, hogfish, and other tropical fish, she makes for an interesting and enjoyable dive in a depth that is more accessible than some of the other area shipwrecks. This dive is generally considered intermediate but can sometimes present more challenging conditions such as limited visibility, and strong currents. She also has the usual shipwreck hazards such as overhead environments, entanglement, and sharp edges/rough surfaces, although they are less prevalent here than at other wrecks nearby.
Joe’s Tug wreck:
Joe’s Tug is a 75-foot shrimp boat, and so not actually a tugboat as the name would imply. She rests in roughly 65 feet of water and was ripped in two during hurricane Irene in 1999. Today the bow and stern sections are roughly 30 feet apart, and the site is easy to tour in one dive. She is accessed by a single mooring ball attached to the bow section of the wreck. Home to an abundance of marine life such as goliath and other grouper, barracuda, moray eels, schools of snapper and grunts, and many corals, sponges, and crustaceans, she is a popular wreck for novice to advanced divers in a very accessible depth. This dive is generally considered beginner to intermediate, although strong currents and limited visibility can sometimes make this dive more challenging. She can also present entanglement and sharp edge/rough surface hazards.