Pickles reef is, in my opinion, the Rodney Dangerfield of the reefs in Key Largo. Lying between it’s more famous neighbors, Molasses reef to the north and Snapper Ledge to the south, it is a small spur and groove reef formation about ¼ mile long. Being relatively shallow, it is an ideal site for both divers and snorkelers. There are three mooring balls on Pickles reef. The two southerly balls are in slightly deeper water and the northernmost ball is the shallowest. One of the things about Pickles is the fact that you are very likely to see Moray eels. Not only Green, but Spotted and Golden tail Morays are relatively common in the area.
Pickles is one of the few dive sites that Sea Dwellers Dive Center dives that is not classified as a “Special Preservation Area”. Despite this, it is home to some creatures that you rarely see in other parts of the National Marine Sanctuary.
One thing our scuba divers notice about Pickles reef is the uniqueness of the marine life found here. We do see many things here while scuba diving that we do not usually see other places. This octopus sometimes comes out during the day and can be relatively unafraid of divers, confident of it’s ability to change its appearance and blend into the background when it chooses. Other creatures that I’ve seen at Pickles reef include these Caribbean Reef Squid. They are generally very shy, but, if you keep still, they will glide slowly past and put on quite a show, by changing color as you watch them.
Pickles Reef gets it’s name from a wreck just inshore from the northernmost ball in the group. The wreck is called the “Pickle Barrel Wreck” and some mystery surrounds it. It is often said to be a railway barge that sank during the building of Flagler’s railroad around 1903. The pickle barrels were used to hold concrete and over the last 100 years or so, the wood rotted away, leaving barrel size lumps of concrete – hence the name “Pickle Barrel wreck”. There is also some wreckage still visible in the same area. The mystery comes from the fact that tests on the concrete by the National Marine Sanctuary in 2008 showed the concrete to date from the mid 1800’s. There were 23 ships recorded as lost on Pickles Reef from 1828 to 1911. The most interesting story is that it is the remains of a Confederate blockade-runner headed for Charleston. The concrete was contraband and hidden in pickle barrels to avoid detection if the Union Navy stopped the vessel.
Beyond the history, Pickles reef is home to many little fish that seem to be full of attitude. This redlip blenny looks like she’s got her makeup on ready to go partying while the wrasse blenny pokes his head out from a hole to see what all the fuss is about. The juvenile spotted drum is always nice to spot and makes a great subject for a closeup.
Key Largo diving is known for it’s rich and varied marine life, and Pickles Reef, while often overlooked, is certainly one dive site that offers unique rewards for those who visit and know what to look for!
Thanks to Sea Dwellers’ Instructor David Jefferiss for the content & Photography of this page!