Conch Reef has the best reef wall system to dive in the Florida Keys
Conch Reef is marked by a red number 12 channel marker. The depth of the water here ranges from 2' to 106'. There are mooring buoys here but I don’t know the exact number of them. It’s located four miles south of Tavernier. The GPS coordinates are 24'57.110N and 080'27.564W.
This reef has a Sanctuary Preservation Area which is marked by 4 yellow buoys. You’re not allowed to take fish or lobster from this area, but you are allowed to do some catch and release fishing by trolling on the outside of the drop off in the deeper water. There’s a research only area which is marked by the 4 yellow research only buoys. This area is also a no anchor zone. You’ll see the large yellow life support buoy in the middle of this research only area. It’s tethered to the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory that’s sitting 63' below on the ocean floor.
Conch Reef gets its name from the large number of Conch Shells that live in the grass and sandy areas surrounding the reef. There’s literally thousands of them.
Conch Reef is different from the rest in this area because of the proliferation of barrel sponge and the depth of the reef wall. The wall begins to slope off at 55' and continues to 106' where there’s a wide area of white sand that hugs the bottom edge of the wall. Large barrel sponges cover the reef wall all the way down. Some of these are as large as me. They’re 5' tall. They’re slow growers which means they could easily be 100 years old. I bet the Gulfstream Current covering this reef most of the time has a lot to do with the large numbers and the large size of these sponges. The Gulfstream also gives you great visibility here but the trade off is that lots of time the current is running pretty strong. When it's running strong it’s better to do a drift dive.
There’s also stands of pillar coral scattered around the reef. It’s one of the more rare corals in the Florida Keys. It used to be taken and sold commercially. It was almost wiped out.
The area on the north side is the shallow water it ranges from 2' to 6'. There’s lots of rubble here. It’s a great place to collect tropical fish. The area up to the marker on the shore side has lots of spur and groove coral formations and ranges from 15' to 20' of water. There’s lots of marine life to enjoy. There’s lobster, green moray and spotted eel, huge schools of snapper and grunts, parrot fish and tarpon. Outside the marker on the south side it plateaus off at 50' before the wall drops off to 106'. At this depth and because you’re in the Gulfstream waters, it’s not unusual to see large pelagic fish cruise by. This is one of the Florida Keys best reefs.
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