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Lower Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks

Locations >The Keys > Lower Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks

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aerial of ship showing it clearly at the surface of the water with a diving boat nearby
Divers on old "Shipwreck" off Key West.in 1984
McDonald, Dale M., 1949-2007. Florida Memory

Bahia Honda to Dry Tortugas from Longitude 81° 09

Shipwrecks, reefs, and wrecks in The Lower Florida Keys are some of the best the Keys has to offer. The Bayside of the Lower Keys is mostly within Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) where spearfishing is not allowed. There are also many No-Motor, No-Entry zones established for preservation and these areas are clearly marked with buoys. The Atlantic side have some amazing shipwrecks, natural reefs, and preservation areas for diving. The islands west of Key West are within the Key West WMA which does allow spearfishing. These islands are in very shallow clear waters and offer the best of the best fishing grounds in the Florida Keys.

FKNMS provides mooring buoys at popular fishing and dive sites to prevent anchor damage to reefs. If mooring buoys are at a site, you must use them. If none are available, find another boat to tie up to, and if you have no luck, you are allowed to only anchor in the sand away from the reef. Mooring buoys may be designated "fishing" buoys or "dive boat" buoys so please follow these on site rules.

We have done the research for you and indicate on the below charts where you can and cannot fish, lobster and spearfish. Most sites where you can hook & line fish you can lobster - if Lobstering is not allowed we indicate it. Lobstering on artificial reefs is not allowed in State waters so do not do it! The inshore waters are patrolled by many authorities and fines are huge. icon webpage Lobstering Brochure

icon mooring buoy ok to fish = Mooring Buoy(s) - OK to fish when tied to buoy icon mooring buoy no fishing = Mooring Buoy(s) - No Fishing when tied to buoy
Spearfishing OK at this site Spearfishing OK at this site No Spearfishing in this area = No Spearfishing icon webpage Symbol IndexClick Diagrams to Enlarge

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Horseshoe Key

icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Upper Harbor and East Content Keys diagram

Upper Harbor Key is a mangrove island surrounded by flats and is accessible at high tide. icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

West Content Keys and Crane Key diagram

West Content Keys are accessible at high tides.
icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Newfound Harbor diagram
This inshore SPA is just off Little Palm Island and partially within the Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve and contains the best bolter corals in the Keys. There are also star corals and giant brain corals. You can spearfish outside the SPA boundries; be sure to anchor in the sand.
icon magnafier Newfound Harbor Depth Chart

Looe Key area diagram

Looe Key Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) is a 5.32 sq nautical mile area, 25' water depth, located near Big Pine Key, about 5.5 nautical miles south of Ramrod Key and about 8 nautical miles southwest of Bahia Honda State Park. Looe Key was named for the wreck of the 1706 46-Gun 124'x36' British Frigate H.M.S. Loo, which ran aground February 5, 1744. Little remains of this wreck today. A clerk's error in listing the ship as "HMS Looe" is how Looe Key received it's name. No Spearfishing in EMA area.
Adolph Busch wreck diagram
Pelican Shoal diagram

Pelican Shoal is located 6 miles southeast of Boca Chica. Rrecent hurricanes have washed away most of the island. A no-access buffer zone out to 50 meters from shore is in effect between April 1 and August 31 and the shoal area is closed by FWC.
star icon represents webpage Pelican Shoal icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge
Eastern Sambo diagram

Eastern Sambo Research Only Area is a spur-and-groove bank reef with healthy coral formations. It is closed to entry and clearly identified by 30-inch round yellow buoys clearly marked with "Research Only." No Entry without a permit.
USS Vandenberg wreck diagram
icon Vandenberg

Western Sambo reef diagram

 

Western Sambo Ecological Reserve is 9 sq. nautical miles extending from the reef to the shore of Boca Chica/Naval Air Station Key West. Diving and snorkeling are allowed here but NO fishing or lobstering.
Access Permit required to stop or use a mooring buoy.
icon webpage Western Sambo Depths

Marker 32 reef diagram

OK to spearfish at this site located in state waters.

9 Foot Stake reef diagram

OK to spearfish at this site located in state waters. There are actually 3 mooring buoys at this site. This site is in state waters and does contain some artificial artifacts so be cautious if lobstering in this area.

Cayman Salvor wreck diagram

icon more infoCayman Salvor

Upper Harbor and Content Keys diagram

The Harbor Keys are mangrove Islands 9 miles northeast of Key West.
icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Sawyer Keys diagrams

Sawyer Keys are 22 miles northeast of Key West, east of Johnston Key Channel and has shallow, tidal creeks running between them.
icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Marvin Keys diagram

icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Snipe Keys diagram

Snipe Keys are a group of islands 16 miles northeast of Key West, due east of Mud Keys. icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Mud Keys diagram

The Mud Keys are mostly red mangrove islands 15 miles northeast of Key West and are dissected by navigable creeks. icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Cayo Aqua Keys

Cayo Agua Keys are a group of mangrove islands with tidal creeks between them, 6 miles northeast of Key West. icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Bay Keys diagram

Bay Keys are a group of mangrove islands 4 miles north of Key West.
icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

diagram Eastern Dry Rocks reef

icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Mule Key reef diagram

icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Rock Key diagram

icon webpage Rock Key Depth Chart icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

diagram of sand key

icon webpage
Sand Key Depth Chart icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Archer reef diagram

icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Cottrell Key diagram


icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge
icon webpage Cottrell Key, Little Mullet Key, Big Mullet Key Diagram
Western Dry Rocks diagram

icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Amesbury wreck diagram

star icon represents webpage The Amesbury
icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Boca Grande & Woman Keys diagram

 

Often crowded due to the beautiful beaches here, this area has some of the best fishing in the Keys. Be sure to obey the beach closure and no motor zones around these islands. icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

diagram Marquesas keys
Located 25 miles west of Key West are the group of islands called the Marquesas Keys. This cluster of islands is about 4x4 miles and forms an circular atoll. Permit, Tarpon, and Bonefish are abundant in the Marquesas's shallow waters along with Barracuda. No spearfishing inside the WMA; spearing to the west of the island outside the WMA which ends at the edge of these islands. North of the islands the WMA goes for quite a ways so be sure you know where you are when spearing this area. You are also in state waters here so Florida fishing bag limit rules apply here. icon webpage National Wildlife Refuge

Tortugas area diagram

star icon represents webpage Tortugas Detailed Park Info

 

The above diagrams are courtesy of FKNMS. Florida Go Fishing created helpful icons and added site details to each diagram with rules.

Spearfishing

Spearfishing is allowed in state & federal waters south (west) of the Long Key Bridge. We indicate on our site diagrams where spearfishing IS allowed. Remember, it's irresponsible to spearfish anytime recreational divers are present, so use good judgement when hunting. After spearfishing, if you will be traveling through any no-take zones (SPA's, EMA's, ER's, ROA's, state and national parks) you must remain in continuous transit (do not stop) when returning to port with gear broken down and stowed away.

There is no spearing in State Parks. There are 2 Wildlife Refuge's in the lower Keys, the Key West WMA and the Great White Heron WMA. The Key West WMA allows spearfishing but the Great White Heron WMA does not allow spearing. For more details visit our Keys Parks & Preserves page.

star icon represents webpage FWC's Spearfishing Regulations for rules & species restrictions and icon pdf Spearfishing Regulations in Monroe County

Cayman Salvor icon mooring buoy ok to fishSpearfishing OK at this site

3D Cayman Salvager - Key West FL, Waterproof Dive Site Card
3D Waterproof Dive Site Card
$ 9.95 at Leisure Pro

The Cayman Salvager now lies one mile southwest of the Nine-Foot Stake. This 187-foot steel-hulled buoy tender was built in 1937 for the Coast Guard and was later used as a cable layer. She transported Cuban refugees during the Mariel boat lift in 1979, resulting inhere seizure by the US government. After being seized, she was sitting at the dock awaiting her fate when she sank unexpectedly. In 1985, she was raised and prepared to be sunk again as an artificial reef in 300 feet of water. But while being towed out for re-sinking, she prematurely sunk in just 90 feet of water where she currently resides. She settled on her side but was righted a few months later in 1985 by Hurricane Kate. In preparation for her scheduled sinking, the Cayman Salvage had been cleaned and stripped to create a smoother structure to foster pelagic life. Because of the removal of restricting parts, penetration is possible but is considered dangerous. It is recommended that divers who desire to pursue such a mission do so during a return dive and not on the first exploration. Bar jacks and schools of silversides frequent this site. Divers have reported that a 200-pound jewfish and a six-foot green moray eel call this vessel home. Note that dangerous aspects of this location are strong currents and the depth. A careful diver will find this artificial reef a great chance for exploration and a unique dive. icon magnafier Caymen Salvor Site Diagram

Joe's Tug Spearfishing OK at this site

3D Joe's Tug - Key West FL, Waterproof Dive Site Card
3D Waterproof Dive Site Card
$ 9.95 at Leisure Pro

Joe's Tug in fact, is an old steel hulled shrimper originally destined as an artificial reef off the coast of Miami. She first sank at the pier in Key West in 1986. It was raised and cleaned in preparation for her planned sinking as an artificial reef in Miami. However, late on the night before it was scheduled to be towed north, a group of locals secretly towed the boat out of Key West harbor. The vessel sank in route to wherever they were headed, landing on the reef in about 65 feet of water. Some say a rum-soaked local pirate did it! Joe's Tug which is 75" in length now sits in about 65 feet of water in the sand, no longer intact. In 1998, Hurricane Georges picked up the wreck and tore her in half. The bow and stern now lie about 30 feet apart, and the wheelhouse has largely disintegrated over the years. The hull is easily accessible and is usually filled with schooling fish. She sits up right on the ocean floor surrounded by soft and hard coral formations and large sponges. This wreck is home to some very friendly moray eels and inquisitive fish. Joe's Tug is an easy and rewarding dive for both beginners and experienced divers. Open access to the wheel house and aft deck make this an enjoyable dive. Visibility is usually good due to its location outside of the reef and offers a great photographic location with a wide variety of corals and marine life. Also home to Joe's Tug is the famous Jewfish named "Elvis". Be sure to look for him so that when you go back home after your dive trip, you can tell your friends you actually saw Elvis in Key West!

Western Sambo icon mooring buoy no fishingNo Spearfishing in this area

3D Western Samboo - Key West FL, Waterproof Dive Site Card
3D Waterproof Dive Site Card
$ 9.95 at Leisure Pro

The Sambo Reefs is a collection of several reefs close to Key West. The area is divided into an Eastern area, a Middle area, and a Western area. The areas are located about four miles south of the Boca Chica Channel. If you go out to the Sambo Reefs, a pole will mark the eastern end of the reefs. This area is used for commercial and recreational diving but it is also used frequently for research purposes there is a Sanctuary Preservation Area marked by orange floats where research is done and fishing and taking lobster are prohibited. However, the rest of the area is great for taking lobster and shelling, especially in the inland grass bed located in shallower water. The Sambos reef line is known for its diverse sea life. The entire area ranges in depth from 10 to 40 feet. One popular spot on the west end of the Western Sambo is 25 feet deep and is frequented by divers. This section offers fields of branching coral that extend in all directions. Around the same area but heading down to 40 feet, a diver can see the heads of many corals abundant with sea life. This site can be seen for about 125 yards. This location is great for a variety of different dives at varying depths. However, if you are in search of collecting shells or other keepsakes, be careful which part of the area you are disturbing. The Sambos offer a variety of diving options and extensive amounts of sea life. The shallow reefs have strands of Elkhorn and stag-horn and tropical fish life is abundant. icon magnafier Western Sambo Site Diagram

Vandenberg icon mooring buoy ok to fishSpearfishing OK at this site

The 523 foot Vandenberg was sunk to become the largest artificial reef in the FKNMS and the second largest in the world. The ship settled upright on her keel in 1 minute 44 seconds, exactly as predicted by the many model tests performed to design the sink plan. Marine life began colonizing immediately and the ship is now home to pelagic and reef fish, and many other species of marine plants and animals. 

On 22 February 1943 General G. O. Squier Class Transport Laid down as a Maritime Commission type (C4-S-A1) hull, under a Maritime Commission contract, at Kaiser Co. Inc., Yard No. 3, Richmond, CA. On 15 July 1961 The Ship withdrawn from the Reserve Fleet and transferred to the US Air Force and was converted to a Missile Range Instrumentation Ship and renamed General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. 

1998 the ship was the stage for the science fiction movie "Virus" then in 2008 she was auctioned off and purchase for an artificial reef off Key West. In June 2012 artist Andreas Franke open a very interesting exhibit at the Washington Ronald Reagan Building called "Vandenberg: Life Below the Surface" that show images of the ship with people superimposed inside.

Today the Vandenberg is considered a safe, enjoyable dive for all experience levels of certified divers, those trained and experienced in light-wreck penetration are enjoying exploring the ship's many cargo holds, stair towers, elevator shafts and hallways. At 100 plus feet, holes cut along the outside of the hull purposed to sink the ship now provide swim-through opportunities for advanced and skilled technical divers.
icon magnafier Vandenberg Site Diagram

3D Vandenberg - Key West FL, Waterproof Dive Site Card 3D Vandenberg (Deck) - Key West FL, Waterproof Dive Site Card   3D Vandenberg (Bow) - Key West FL, Waterproof Dive Site Card 3D Vandenberg (Stern) - Key West FL, Waterproof Dive Site Card
Dive Site Card
$ 9.95 at Leisure Pro
Deck
$ 9.95 at Leisure Pro
  Bow
$ 9.95 at Leisure Pro
Stern
$ 9.95 at Leisure Pro

Radio Towers Spearfishing OK in this area

Chart showing 6 radio towers in the Gulf of Mexico
Click to Enlarge

The southeastern Gulf of Mexico has numerous Department of Defence Radio Towers that offer excellent fishing, especially for migratory species. Popular towers are located north of Key West. For more information on the radio tower's locations and tips for fishing them visit our Southwest Reefs & Shipwrecks page.

 

Reef Reports Lower Keys

August 2012 - Lobstering off Key West

Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Assoc went Lobstering and caught around 25 lobsters for the week and reports: I wanted to let you know that your web site helped me locate some lobsters in Key West this past week. I really loved the info on no-take zones, etc. Some of the numbers you had on your site for Key West were very nice for diving, and we found a few lobsters there. However, we quickly found that we had to get away from the nice dive sites and dive places most divers wouldn't be interested in to come close to getting our limit. I had a little excitement on the last day when I released an undersized lobster and it was immediately attacked by a hammerhead shark. I didn't see the shark until it swooped in from behind me, attacked the lobster, and then carried it off. It made me wonder if it had been following me and my lobster bag around waiting for an opportunity. It startled me but I wasn't really scared because I could tell it was only interested in the lobster.

Send us your reports on our Reef Reports page.

 

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Multiple resources were used to create our Florida GPS Coordinates Reef Charts. This data is provided as a tool to increase your fishing and/or diving enjoyment and is not intended to be used for navigational purposes. This information is provided only as a courtesy and there are NO guaranties, warranties, express or implied, or representations as to the accuracy of this content. Florida Go Fishing assumes NO liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information contained here AND is not responsible for location changes or inaccuracies of rules, bouys, hazards or markers. If you find an error or omission in the data, please feel free to contact us with the correct information and we will verify and correct it as soon as possible.

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