Three Days of Summer Diving in the Florida Keys

Most of us imagine summer diving in the Florida Keys as perfect—swimming through clear, warm waters with beautiful coral reefs and thousands of colorful fish surrounding us. That is precisely what we had over our three-day summer dive trip in mid-July.

Danielle and I headed down to Key Largo this July weekend for three days of summer diving in the beautiful Florida Keys.  We left Tampa early on Friday morning, driving 5 hours to Islamorada, Fl. We had booked an afternoon two-tank dive with the Islamorada Dive Center.

We planned to meet our friends from Gulf Coast Divers on Saturday and Sunday morning to dive around the Key Largo Reef area.

Day One Summer diving in the Florida Keys at Alligator Reef, Islamorada

We arrived at the Islamorada Dive Center just in time. We signed the necessary papers and promptly boarded the boat. Our destination was the Alligator Reef, where we would have our first dive.

The Marauder Reef area was our first stop, as we jumped into 88-degree water with a visibility of about 40 feet. This was a shallow summer dive in Florida, for sure. Our depth never exceeded 15’, but the warm temperatures meant no wetsuits, making the dive easier and more enjoyable.

Our rash guards were appreciated, as many Moon jellyfish were found below the surface down to about 7 feet. The sunlight and shallow dive depth allowed the sun to penetrate, making the reefs appear more Lobster anyonecolorful.

The reef was alive with many types of coral, including Elkhorn, large beautiful fans, brain coral, and much more. There were many types of fish, including Jackfish, parrotfish, tangs, angel fish, lobsters, and green turtles.

 Dive Two: Rocky Top Stop, Alligator Reef

Jamie and Jessie - Islamaurada Dive shopOur next stop was Rocky Top, just a quick 5-minute ride away. Our max depth was only 20 feet, but the visibility wasn’t as good. There was particulate floating in the water, causing a few of my photos to be a little fuzzy.

However, the coral and fish varieties were plentiful at this location too. It was fun just relaxing and taking a leisurely stress-free dive.

Our dive master Jessi had her Mom, Jamie, onboard diving with us. It was fun diving with another mother-daughter team. I managed to get a fun picture of the two of them.

As always, the crew of Islamorada Dive Center was excellent, quick to answer questions, and helpful whenever needed.

Day Two: Summer diving in Key Largo

Our friends from Gulf Coast Divers (GCD) in Tampa were all waiting when we arrived at Pirates Cove Water Sports in Key Largo Saturday morning. This dive shop is a top-rated PADI diving center at the Reefhouse Resort & Marina on Key Largo’s west coast. Gulf Coast Divers had chartered the Pirates Cove dive boat for Saturday and Sunday mornings. We had the 48’ deck boat to ourselves, allowing us to spread out a bit, which is always appreciated by divers.

Dive One: Christmas Tree Caves on French Reef

Large reef formations mark this location, creating several cave-like hollows that fish love to hide in.  We encountered surprises around every corner while diving at this location. We swam around the Christmas Christmas Tree Worm Coral - Summer Diving in the Florida KeysTree Caves with a max depth was 42 feet. The caves are named after the Christmas Tree Worms, which make their home there and are found in many colors.

During our dive, we spotted nurse sharks, green turtles, unique coral formations, including Christmas Tree Worm coral, and scores of fish swimming everywhere. This was an excellent area for diving.

Dive Two: Molasses Reef

To finish up our last Sumer dive in Key Largo, we headed to Molasses Reef

Molasses Reef is a trendy spot for diving, with depths ranging from 10-90 feet, depending on your location. The Florida Keys reefs have over 600 types of fish, crustaceans, and living reefs. We had a great time exploring them at Molasses.

We were in a shallow area about 20-30 feet deep. The site had reef formations with spurs and grooves. To remember our location and the number of spurs we needed to pass, we counted these formations as we explored them. This helped us find our way back to the ship.

Colossal coral reef formations towered 12-15 feet from the sandy bottom, providing homes to thousands of sea creatures and fish. I spotted several large, vibrant blue parrot fish under the caves of the reefs.

Molasses has many coral formations, including Brain coral, Elkhorn, star corals, and giant fan corals of different colors. You can also spot nurse sharks and green turtles swimming and hanging around. You may also see an old ship winch and anchor.

Day Three: Summer diving in Key Largo

Dive One: Christ of the Abyss

Christ of the AbyssSunday morning would be our last two dives before returning to Tampa that afternoon. Our group agreed to arrive early to get out a bit earlier before too many of the other dive shop boats got out.

We wanted to visit the “Christ of the Abyss” dive spot. This dive spot is famous for its statue of Christ reaching for the surface. Many diving photos taken in the northern Florida Keys show the figure.

We took about 30 minutes to get through the canals to the first dive spot. Our Captain Krissie and mate Catie were terrific. Catie offered to lead us to the statue and snap a photo of our group, as shown below.

We stayed behind Catie, swimming into a pretty strong current. We arrived and gathered around the statue for the picture. We went with Mike, a GCD dive master, and his wife.

Whip tail rayWe explored the extensive reef formations that surrounded the area. As we slowly made our way back to the boat, there were several swim-through coral reef formations. We enjoyed exploring the caves and swim-throughs but mostly marveled at the abundant sea life.

An Whip Tail Ray appeared and swam beneath us. We admired its graceful movement through the water as he passed just a few feet below us.

Dive Two: Dry Rocks

Our last dive was near the Christ of the Abyss in the Dry Rocks area.  This location was similar to the first, with spur and groove formations of large coral formations with schools of colorful fish everywhere.  The visibility was about 40-50 feet here, and our depth averaged about 20 feet.  Again, we found several swim-through coral formations, lobsters hiding under the overhangs, and so many different fish that we couldn’t begin to identify them all.

It was a great dive to end our underwater summer diving adventures in the Florida Keys for 2023.

Many thanks to Captain Krissie, dive assistant Cattie at Pirates Cove Water Sports, and Mike and Brenda from Gulf Coast Divers, who allowed Danielle and me to hang out with them underwater.