Day of the Dead Diving in Key Biscayne. Fl

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What is Day of the Dead diving all about? Were we diving with zombies and ghosts? Well, as it turned out, a little of both.


Planning our Weekend Dive Trip:

Danielle and I learned about diving in the Key Biscayne area from a fellow diver during our West Palm Beach dive. After some research, Danielle booked us for a three-day dive weekend from Nov. 8th to 10th with Divers Paradise, the only dive organization licensed to take divers in the Key Biscayne National Bay. Our first Day of diving was Friday afternoon, with the published plan to dive at Rainbow Reef and Neptune Memorial Reef. We also booked dives on Saturday afternoon and a three-tank dive on Sunday before heading home to Tampa. We had yet to learn we would celebrate the Day of the Dead while diving.


Just off the coast of Miami lies the Key Biscayne National Park, with over 172,000 acres of marine life, reefs, wrecks, and estuaries. The area also includes the National Memorial Reef Monument Park.

First Day of the Dead Dive – Zombie Reef:

After checking in, we boarded the boat, leaving the dock early. We arrived at Rainbow Reef by 1:30 a.m. and quickly got our gear on. Diving with Danielle as my buddy, a dive master, and another solo diver, we jumped in. We headed east into the current towards the main reef structure and then followed it North. We immediately noticed the change in the reefs for our previous Florida Key dives earlier in the summer. The coral had lost much of its color. Most of the coral was a faded brown; several areas had died entirely and were now bleach white.

Turtle swimming near the surface - Neptune Memorial ReefThe sea life was also much less abundant than usual. Although plenty of jacks and smaller fish species still existed, we found no evidence of eels, rays, or sharks.  We did see a few turtles. We headed north along the reef and were heartbroken about the condition of the reef. Although we still enjoyed our dive, we were frustrated by the conditions caused by the extreme heat wave this past summer, which was a direct result of global warming. This reef is only in about 20′ of water, so the excessively high water temperatures over the past summer have taken a toll. It was like diving on a Zombie Reef. If anyone doubts the terrible effects of global warming, they need to compare the difference in the reef habitats in the Florida Keys between last spring and now. This past summer devastated the more shallow reefs along the Florida coast, making them resemble Zombie reefs.

Dealing with Issues:

Heading back towards the boat, our dive master did a boat check at about 15 feet of water. At the same time, Danielle motioned for me to head to theYellow and Black Butterfly fishsurface. She was in a bit of distress. When I got to the surface, Danielle informed me and the dive master that her ear drum had blown and she was in extreme pain. She would not be able to go below the surface again. The dive master inflated her dive sausage to let the boat know we had surfaced and to pick us up when they could. However, they needed to wait for the other divers to surface before heading our way.

The seas were sloppy with two-foot waves. We didn’t want to get carried farther away from the boat, so we started to backick to the boat. Eventually, they threw out a buoy attached to a rope, which we used to pull ourselves back to the boat.

That was not a good start. Danielle’s ear was a problem.

Although the pain had subsided significantly by the time we had gotten back on the boat, she was done diving for the weekend and probably for the foreseeable future. Between the poor condition of the reef and Danielle’s ear, we were a bit upset.

When we arrived on deck, we noticed one of the divers sprawled out face down. She and a few others had gotten seasick. Being seasick is one of the worst feelings in the world, and I felt terrible for them—just another reminder to take precautions to prevent seasickness.

Dive Two: Neptune Memorial Reef

With all divers safely on board, we headed to our next stop, The Neptune Memorial Reef.Medium Size Grouper hiding behind a fence

Danielle and I had no idea what the Neptune Memorial Reef was, and the dive master didn’t give us an overview. They probably assumed that we already knew. I thought that it was just another reef structure in the area. With Danielle unable to dive, I jumped in the water with the dive master and the other solo diver. Again, we headed east towards some structures we could see off in the distance. We were in about 40 feet of water with good visibility between 40-50 feet.

What is this Place?

Neptune Memorial Reef structure and personal monumentsAs we approached, I realized this was an artificial reef complex. There were large arches with swim-throughs and other structures. I also noticed cement figures of sea turtles, starfish, and different marine life with plaques. Some of the markers were recently placed, making reading the memorial plaque easy, while others had been there a while and covered with healthy coral growth.

One large 10′ long statue of a lion stood near several large 15′ pillars. Both had an abundant amount of coral and sea life. I don’t know who this person was, but he must have had a lot of money as these figures are costly. Check out the Neptune Memorial Reef for pricing information.

Sea Life?

I noticed a good-sized grouper hanging out near a fence-like structure, a few barracuda trying to look cool near the top of another overhang, and schools of many other types of fish. We did not see any turtles, sharks, or eels here either. However, the condition of the coral was much better due to the depth of the water.

Day of the Dead Diving:

We dove all around, looking at what I had come to realize were memorials of dead people. We were swimming around an underwater marineTurtle Memorial - Neptune Memorial Reef cemetery,thus the name “Neptune Memorial Reef.” After our air began to get low, our dive master motioned us to go up and do a safety stop at 15′, which we did. Still, again, we surfaced a fair distance from the boat and had another long surface swim back.

Summary of the Day of the Dead Diving

The Day consisted of a struggling ‘Zombie’ reef, severely damaged by high water temperatures the past summer; seasick divers sprawled out on the boat and an underwater cemetery where thousands of dead people were inturned. Thus, the title of this post is “Day of the Dead Diving.”

Later that evening, I started to do some research on the Neptune Memorial Reef. I learned about its development and its plans.

The Neptune Memorial Reef

Neptune Memorial Reef Plaque

The Neptune Memorial Reef project started in 2014, with ¼ of an acre of seafloor dedicated to the project. Cement forms were submerged to create the initial part of the memorial site. About 4,000 people initially chose to be laid to rest in this natural underwater memorial oasis.

Ashes are mixed with cement poured into molds of their choosing. A plague is attached with a person’s name, years of life, and a message, much like a traditional headstone. The cement memorial is then submerged in the underwater park, providing a place for coral and other sea life to grow and develop. Neptune’s slogan is “An underwater Tribute that Creates Life after Life.”

This Memorial Reef site is a remarkable idea that solves many issues involving traditional burials. Today, the Neptune Memorial Reef serves as an underwater cemetery that creates more life by promoting coral reef growth. It will eventually house over 250,000 remains of people who chose to have their remains be the genesis of new life while saving valuable land space.

See the Neptune Memorial website for more information about the park and the process.

Swimming through the pillars - Neptune Memorial Reef