Sambo Reef is really three reefs, Eastern, Middle and Western, separated by big masses of white Florida Keys sand

Sambo reef has a red channel marker with the #28 on the east end of the Eastern reef and there’s a red channel marker with #30 on the east end of the Western reef. The depth of the water ranges from three feet to 50' There are lots of mooring buoys to tie your boat to. Part of this reef is a Sanctuary Protection Area which is marked with large yellow buoys and part is an Ecological Reserve-Research Only Area which is marked with large orange buoys. All the rest of this reef system is open to fishing and lobstering as long as you have the proper license. It’s located five miles southeast of Key West or four miles south of Boca Cheeca Channel. The GPS Coordinates are 24'29.580N and 081'39.830W for the Eastern reef, 24'29.710N and 081'41.790W for the Middle reef and 24'29.000N and 081'42.500W for the Western reef.

Sambo Reef

The cool thing about this dive site is that there’s a closed area that begins at the shoreline on Boca Cheeca Key and extends all the way out to the Western reef. The area size is nine square miles. It was set aside as an Ecological Reserve in 1997. The intention is that all the marine life contained in this area will be able to spawn and reproduce without being disturbed by man. The beauty of this is the marine life and especially the lobster don’t know where the boundary is. Lots of them move out of this area after they’ve become very large and take up hiding places in the near by reefs.

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The most popular area of this reef is the huge area of large brain coral and quite a bit of branching coral at the Western reef. Elkhorn coral dominates much of the shallow reef crest in the northwest section of the Western reef. In the Caribbean and Florida Keys Elkhorn coral is the fastest growing coral in the region. There’s an area called the Cannonball Cut that usually holds a large number of lobster. Haystack is another site with lots of reef fish. You’ll see blue tangs, big blue parrotfish, schooling fish and lots of colorful tropical fish. Close to buoy #8 you’ll see stands of Elkhorn and Staghorn coral and a rudder from a boat, this place is called the Lounge.

Several years ago a ship grounded on the reef. The Florida Aquarium and the University of Florida attempted a restoration project where the ship damaged the reef. They took coral from the Key West harbor project and cut it into thin slices. These were glued to disc shaped pieces of concrete and incubated in their aquariums for a minimum of six months. Hundreds of these coral seeded discs were then placed on the reef and are doing quite well. They grow slow but they do grow. This could be a part of the answer to our dying coral reefs.

Eastern, Middle and Western Sambo Reef has so much variety that every level of diver will enjoy his dive while visiting the waters of the Florida Keys.


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