CORAL REEF STATE PARK
DIVE AND SNORKEL SITES
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a Florida State Park
located in Key Largo. The park includes approximately
70 nautical square miles of adjacent Atlantic Ocean waters.
It was the first underwater park in the United States.
This chain of coral islands is legendary for its lore of pirates and sunken treasure, but today countless visitors have discovered the real treasure of Florida Keys lies just offshore, its world-class diving and snorkeling. The waters offshore of Key Largo offer some of the best diving in the world. Visitors to Key Largo quickly understand why it is the “Dive Capital of the World”. Key Largo was one of the first areas in the world to dive into conservation of its marine habitat. The Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary was created in 1975. As a result, the reef has been protected for more than four decades. This protection has provided a uniquely rich coral environment where the 600 species of tropical fish are numerous and friendly – a veritable paradise for diver and snorkeler. Key Largo is best known for its shallow reefs and deep wrecks. The shallow reefs provide world class diving for scuba divers of all ages and skills. The deep wrecks offer the some of the best wreck diving found anywhere.
Marked by a large steel weather tower, this popular site is located on the southern border of the National Marine Sanctuary. This superior dive site comprises the classic spur and groove system, which begins near the surface and falls off gradually to a depth of 90ft. This reef alone with its 28 different sites could take more than a week to see. It is washed by the Gulf Stream current, so the visibility is usually some of the best in the entire park.
This reef is a giant irregular honeycomb of canyons, rocky mini-walls, sand patches, and swim-throughs. The swim-through caves are not very large or complicated and are easily accessible. Residents include large sea fans, hard and soft corals, grunts, snappers, chubs, jacks, barracudas, and a large green moray eel that lives in one of the caves and is nicknamed “Frenchie”.
The Benwood wreck rests on an open expanse of sand. There is an abundance of various colorful reef fish that have made their homes in the many holes and openings worn into the ship’s deck and hull. This wreck is home to a famous six foot green moray eel named Goliath. He is usually illusive, but occasionally available for photographs. A night dive on the Benwood will bring you in view of hundreds of large colorful parrotfish who have chosen this wreck as their resting grounds and multitude of spiny lobsters.
The Elbow Reef
Elbow Reef is one of the truly great reef dives of Pennekamp Park. With excellent visibility, numerous site opportunities (wreck, reef, photography), and expansive reef, this reef should be on every diver’s short list. The City of Washington is the most intact. The 241′ schooner was built in 1877 and went down on July 10, 1917. Nearby lies the twisted remains of the Towanda, heavily broken-up. The 752 ton steamer was built in 1863 and went down on May 28, 1866. The Civil War Wreck is an old wooden ship of unknown age. It lies just north of the tower.
North North Dry Rocks
This inshore reef has high profile ridges and sand valleys. Just outside the reef is the sand flats which is the spot to see large southern stingrays. This is one of the most picturesque sites with its abundance of living coral and diversity of fish population since it is not visited as much as some of the other reefs in this area.
North Dry Rocks/Minnow Caves
This small patch reef features a fascinating cave system at about 20ft. Locals term the caves, Minnow Caves, in honor of the vast quantities of minnows found there during the summer.
Key Largo Dry Rocks/Christ of the Abyss
The most photographed dive site in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary is by far the Christ of the Abyss. It was donated by Egidio Cressi of Cressi-Sub Scuba Manufacturing in the 1960’s. While diving or snorkeling this site you can see high profile coral ridges with sand valleys and giant boulder star corrals.
It was named after the Secretary of the Treasury, William J. Duane, who served under President Andrew Jackson. This 327ft. coast guard cutter was sunk as an artificial reef, in November of 1987. Because of the depth, unpredictably strong currents, and overall conditions, this dive is recommended for Advanced Open Water divers or those with a guide. The Duane is famous for its rescue of 22 survivors from the British ship HMS Tressillian that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in World War II. The doors and hatches have been removed for easy entry and exit.
Our newest wreck is a retired Navy transport ship (U.S. Navy Landing Ship Dock). This 510ft long ship was sunk as an artificial reef in June of 2002. The ship originally lied on its starboard side, but has since been up righted thanks to Hurricane Dennis in 2005. Because of the depth, unpredictably strong currents, and overall conditions, this dive is recommended for Advanced Open Water divers or those with a guide.