Key Largo is an island in the upper Florida Keys archipelago and is the largest section of the Keys, at 33 miles (53 km) long. It is one of the northernmost of the Florida Keys in Monroe County. It’s is situated between Everglades National Park to the northwest and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to the east, the first underwater park in the United States, which protects part of the Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.
We will be camping at Key Largo Kampground. Our campsite stretches along the coastline near a mangal. Tents will be set up in a shaded area (T1A, T1, and T2) near the bathhouse. Together we will set up a kitchen, eating area, and the Sea Lab. Other things to explore include: two beaches, snorkeling offshore (with a leader), and the small camp store.
We will be going out on a snorkel boat every morning with Rainbow Reef Dive Center. Weather depending, we will snorkel Snapper Ledge, Pickles Reef, Hole in the Wall, Fire Coral Cave, and North Star. The last three are all snorkel spots located on Molasses Reef! Read more about each spot below.
Snapper Ledge – 15 to 25 ft
Snapper Ledge is a great shallow site consisting of two well defined, high profile ledges and so many fish you may need to bat them away to actually see the reef. The main ledge runs parallel to shore in 25 feet of water. A small swim-through leads from the ledge to the Fishbowl and a large healthy boulder brain coral (Colpophyllia natans) can be found a short distance down the ledge. A huge pinnacle of coral sits on top of the reef at the Eastern end.
This site is famous for the massive schools of grunts, snappers, and schoolmasters. However, this is also a fantastic place to see larger animals like nurse sharks, moray eels and sea turtles.
Pickles Reef – 5 to 30 ft
The Pickle Barrel Wreck is the most popular site on Pickles Reef. The site gets its name from a large number of barrel shaped boulders here. The barrels were from a Civil War era ship running supplies to Fort Jefferson off of Key West. It ran aground and sunk here on the shallow reef, and the concrete and mortar which was being shipped in barrels eventually hardened and the wood rotted away. The barrel/boulders and pieces of the wreckage are in 15′ of water. A field of purple sea fans separate the wreck area from a sand channel which runs seaward to a 25 foot depth and high coral ledges on either side. The ledges are home to moray eels, soapfish and Florida spiny lobsters. It’s also a great spot to look for juvenile fish and nudibranchs!
Hole in the Wall – 15 to 30 ft
Hole In The Wall is the largest swim-through and most photographed site on Molasses Reef. Located at the center of the reef this site sits between the Winch Hole and the Coral Canyons. The Hole is a large, rectangular opening in the reef leading from the Winch Hole to a sand channel that runs toward Molasses tower.
The sand channel has high coral walls on either side. Nurse sharks and moray eels can be found under the ledges, and schools of midnight parrotfish often congregate here.
Fire Coral Cave – 15 to 30 ft
Just a short swim from Permit Ledge is Fire Coral Cave. This is a small swim-through at the South end of Molasses Reef which derived its name from the encrusting yellow/brown fire coral on the reef.
The cave itself is often filled with small bait fish with schools of parrotfish and grunts nearby. Goliath groupers, spiny lobsters and eels are also common here.
North Star – 15 to 30 ft
As the name implies, North Star is located at the North end of Molasses Reef. The Star is a circular patch of sand surrounded by high relief coral formations. Channels of sand radiate from North Star and connect to neighboring sites, including the Wellwood Coral Reef Restoration Site, Logan’s Run, Eagle Ray Alley and Molasses Shallow.
This end of Molasses Reef is also where we find some of the larger animals, including southern stingrays, green moray eels, sea turtles, and reef sharks.