Tennessee Reef sent many ships to the ocean floor in the Florida Keys

Tennessee Reef is marked with a lighthouse that stands 49' tall. The depth of the water ranges from 15' to 25'. There are no mooring buoys to tie your boat to so be careful when you anchor. You’ll want to place the anchor in a sandy area. There are yellow buoys that mark off a Special Use Area. This area is for research only, no person may enter this area unless they are specifically authorized and have a valid permit. This reef is located three miles due south of the Long Key State Park. The GPS Coordinates are 24'45.000N and 080'47.000W.

The lighthouse is located on the southwest corner of the reef. This lighthouse was one of the two built in 1933. It was constructed using the standard wrought iron structure developed in 1932. It was then painted black. It sits in fifteen feet of water. This is the only unmanned lighthouse in the Florida Keys that still has a lantern and it has a Fresnel lens. It’s still in operation today. An identical reef light was built in 1933 at Smith Shoal. Two other identical reef lights were built in 1935. They were Cosgrove Shoal light and Puleski Shoal Light.

Tennessee Reef Light

Before there was a light at this reef it claimed several ships and sent them to a watery grave. On March 29, 1872 a ship named the Virginia was carrying a cargo of iron and glass. She was sailing from Antwerp to New Orleans when she hit this reef. On January 8, 1881 a Steamship named the Erl King was carrying an assorted cargo. She grounded on this reef and sank. On January 27, 1889 the Bark, Bridesmaid was carrying a cargo of lumber. She was sailing from Pensacola to Rotterdam when she struck the reef and sank. On March 25, 1909 the Steamship Olympia was carrying a cargo of coal. She was going from Norfolk to Vera Cruz when she ran onto the reef. And on June 14, 1909 the Steamship Kelvenhead was also carrying a cargo of coal from Norfolk to Vera Cruz when she hit this reef and sank. There was obviously a real need to have this reef lit.

This reef has lots of marine plant and animal life. There’s some really beautiful coral formations at this dive site. There’s a good chance for you to see the endangered Nassau Grouper at this reef. There’s an area called the Tennessee Reef Drop Off. It’s located between the reef and the red number 18 day marker, the GPS coordinates are 24'44.814N and 080'45.948W.

The area between Tennessee Reef and Alligator Reef is the longest span of sandy ocean floor in the Florida Keys Reef System. This causes the shoreline on Long Key to have sand dunes and beautiful white sandy beaches.

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