MOLASSES REEF, Florida Keys

Min Depth: 10 ft.
Max Depth: ~70 ft.

Molasses Reef is an extensive reef complex with diving depths from about 10 feet to more than 70. It consists of several constituent reefs with around 40 mooring buoys, and is one of the most visited dive spots in the Florida Keys. It lies to the southeast of Key Largo, within the Key Largo Existing Management Area, which is immediately to the east of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This reef is within a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA).

The north end of Molasses reef is in about 10 to 15 feet of water, making it suitable for snorkelers. As the reef travels to the southwest, it deepens down to 70 feet, so that area is better for novice and intermediate divers. At depths ranging from 10-40 feet, Molasses Reef features high profile spur and groove coral formations. At 40-60 feet down, seaward sand chutes separate a gently sloping hard flat bottom adorned by hard and soft corals, along with a variety of sponges. The “drop-off” begins in the 50-60 foot range, and extends downward at various angles to the 70+ foot range. Excellent drift diving can be found here.

The reef itself is made up of elkhorn, star, brain and fire corals, as well as sea fans and sponges, creating a vibrant underwater landscape. In the cracks and crevasses of the corals crabs, lobsters and eels all make their homes. Colorful angelfish, spadefish and coral-eating parrotfish are all common sights on the reef. The coral formations are beautiful. There is a profusion of soft and hard corals that make for a splendid panorama. Because Molasses reef is relatively shallow, you don’t lose as many of the brilliant colors that offer quite an enchanting contrast to the crystal clear blue waters.

One notable site is at buoy #7 and is variously referred to as the Winch Hole, Windlass Wreck, or The Winch. Here lies the large mechanical winch from the Slobadana, a 170-foot wooden hulled schooner that sank in 1887 after only three years in service. In addition to the winch itself, various mechanical artifacts are scattered over the nearby area. Large schools of Parrotfish, Snappers and Chubs can be found here, with occasional sightings of Barracudas, Tarpons and Goliath Groupers. The Winch Hole is also a popular Night Dive due to the variety of nocturnal life found here.

Access-wise, all diving centers on Key Largo send boats out to Molasses Reef, but as with the snorkeling boat tours, a given center might not visit the reef on a particular day. The typical boat dive tour is a two-tank trip visiting Molasses Reef and one other dive site. The reef is also a Key Largo area destination for night diving, usually a one-tank trip. Another option is to charter a private trip, such as those offered by Blue Water Divers (bluewaterdiver.net), and spend as much time as desired on Molasses Reef.

To find out which dive charter boats are going to visit Molasses site, and others like it, visit Scuba Schedules and navigate to either the Upper Keys scuba diving region, or the Lower Keys scuba diving region.

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