SAND KEY

Average Depth: 35 ft.
Max Depth: 75 ft

Sand Key: Originally called “Cayos Arena” (Sand Island) by early Spanish explorers, the shape of the Sand Key shifts with the weather. The reef at Sand Key is typical of major lower Keys spur and groove reefs. The spurs are ridges of coral five to 20 feet deep, with grooves of sandy bottom between cliff-like structures.

It is a great place for relaxing and enjoying calm waters. It is well known as a first-class site for snorkeling but also has good diving on the ocean side. For beginners, it is best to stick to the northwest portion of the key. Sand Key is easy to find and is seven miles southwest of Key West. The key is a sand-spit of an island and is marked by a 110-foot light tower. Note that when diving or visiting this site, no anchoring is allowed so boats should tie to a mooring buoy (there are 24 on this site).

A unique and interesting feature of Sand Key that makes it a diver’s delight, is that from year to year, the shape of the land and the surround formations changes with the weather patterns. The unique submarine geography that renders the region ideal for the formation of coral reefs and their associated ecosystems also provides many fascinations for divers. Rock outcroppings, secluded gullies, and twisting pathways between colonies of coral create a challenging and beautiful environment for any diver. However, all individuals should be able to identify fire coral and keep their distance and it can cause a powerful case of contact dermatitis that could cut short a diver’s exploration.

There are ledges that drop from 45 to 70 feet. There lies within a .5 square nautical mile, the Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) which is defined by orange floats. There is a reef around the island which has several rock fingers and gullies and is home to grouper, barracuda, and loggerhead turtles. Elkhorn and fire coral are also abundant. In the shallows are artefacts from the original brick lighthouse, which blew away in an 1846 storm.

Visibility at Sand Key can be highly variable, ranging from 15 to 110 feet, depending on the wind, wave action, and monthly tide variations. Divers should be forewarned about the potential harm that may come from contact with fire corals.

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