While “surfing” the web for Florida Keys info and news, I came across a very nice article from “The Daily Meal” website titled “12 Ways the Florida Keys Are Unlike Anywhere Else on Earth”. Its a cool article, and a cool website for foodies by the way, please check it out when you can.
It got me thinking about our islands down here, the Florida Keys, and how unique they really are to the North American Continent. The Florida Keys is the only area on the North American continent that exhibits traits of a “Tropical” environment by definition, (although technically just north of the official tropical zone boundary). The rest of South Florida and parts of Texas and Mexico have sub-tropical conditions.
The Florida Keys have been referred to as America’s Caribbean” for a myriad of reasons, starting with the “tropical” environment listed above. But they are also home to the only living coral barrier reef in North America. Obviously as many know, this makes it the go-to spot for scuba diving for most Americans. No passport required!
When you are in the Keys, doesn’t it just feel like you are in the “tropics”? Meaning everything that we simply think of when talking “tropics”! Lots of sunshine, (the most sunny days in North America), palm trees, beautiful blue water surrounding you at every turn….seafood shacks, great fishing, great Key Largo scuba diving, (oh, I already mentioned that didn’t I?). You get the picture?
The Florida Keys are simply, “one of a kind”. Probably not a secret to many of you, and why you keep coming down to visit us year after year! We hope that continues, and we think it will if the last few years are any indication…Key Largo and the Florida Keys have been busier than ever! Come on down, the sun, seafood, palm tress and great scuba diving are here waiting for you!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center Staff –
We’re happy to report that the summer of 2017 has been a great one for scuba diving. We’ve seen an up tick of business for the last 2 years now, we’re happy to report, and one of the reasons is…great scuba diving! Our Captains cannot remember so many calm, clear days as we’ve been blessed with for these last couple years. Good news for divers for sure. And while we’ve all heard about the fragile reefs being endangered by rising water temps, a few big players in the Marine Conservation world have announced some big news to help counter this…(see below).
I know I know, we’ve said this before…but heck, we’re going to say it again…the darn marine life down here in Key Largo is simply fantastic! Caribbean Reef Sharks (on most dives now), Spotted Eagle Rays, Tarpon, squid, Goliath Groupers, just to name some of the critters we’ve been seeing on our reefs and wrecks. Add this to the calm seas and you’ve got great scuba diving. We’re fortunate to have many of our scuba divers give us pics of some of the marine life off Key Largo they’ve been seeing.
We’re happy to announce that the Mote Marine Laboratory and The Nature Conservancy are “partnering on a coral conservation initiative that will enable coral restoration at unprecedented scales throughout the Caribbean and the Florida Keys”.
You’ve heard about the Coral Restoration Foundation and the great things they are doing for Florida Keys reefs, and now some other big guys in the Marine Conservation world are joining the action. It’s encouraging on many fronts!
“A collaborative research effort with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Mote is making great advances in developing culture methods for hard corals at Mote’s Tropical Research Laboratory field station in the Florida Keys.”
All of this good news for Key Largo, the Florida Keys, and of course all you scuba divers out there with an appreciation for our beautiful, yet endangered coral reefs. Your crew here at Sea Dwellers appreciates everyone who has been scuba diving with us this summer, and we hope to see you down here again real soon!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
Wow, has the marine life been strong for diving in Key Largo this year! Just an update, this summer has been amazing for marine Life here…again…we’re happy to report! So in addition to the abundance of tropicals, schooling fishes, etc, that we always see on our reefs here…we’ve been seeing multiple Reef Sharks daily while scuba diving, a good amount of Spotted Eagle Rays, and Tarpon! While corals have been struggling here, as well as everywhere in the world due to rising seas temperatures, it’s hopeful that our marine life seems to be doing so well!
This isn’t a totally new phenomenom in Key Largo, as our scuba divers have been seeing increasing numbers of Caribbean Reef Sharks for several years now. But they are definitely peaking this year. At this point we can say that we’re seeing them on the majority of dives, (more than 50%). Last week on Molasses Reef, divers reported seeing between 8 – 10 Reef Sharks on one dive alone! According to Wikipedia… “Measuring up to 3 m (9.8 ft) long, the Caribbean reef shark is one of the largest apex predators in the reef ecosystem, and they are believed to play a major role in shaping Caribbean reef communities.”
Last week a school of about 20 large Tarpons went cruising by several of our divers on a dive on Molasses Reef! And several times over the last weeks divers have come across Tarpons, either large single ones, or in pairs. Strength, stamina, and fighting ability, make the tarpon a premier game fish in Key largo as well as the entire sate of Florida. This is generally the time of year scuba divers see them come in on the reef, and this year their numbers have been up. They are bright silver with large scales…and can grow to about 4–8 ft long and weigh 60–280 lbs according to Wikipedia. They do school at times, which can be exciting to watch while scuba diving.
So come on down and go scuba diving in Key Largo, the marine life, always one of the Keys’ biggest attraction, is really doing well! An while you’re at it if you want to dive with Sea Dwellers Dive Center that’s cool with us too!
“We were diving Key Largo, Molasses Reef, myself and 2 new students when we came upon a young Loggerhead Turtle. I hastened to coax my students along so we could take a look at him before he swam away. As it turned out, he decided we were interesting enough and spent about 10 minutes swimming with us… a wonderful dance for my students and I!” – Sea Dwellers’ Instructor Rob
How many times we’ve experienced the happy face of a diver after an encounter with a Sea Turtle on a Key Largo dive! These special encounters prove the uncertainty of a Turtle’s behavior; at times skittish, simply swimming away quickly when glancing a diver… and sometimes the opposite; content to simply swim right on up to a scuba diver and “check things out”. The latter is one of the great joys of scuba diving Key Largo…being able to swim with and interact with one of these beautiful, interesting creatures on a coral reef!
Male sea turtles actually spend their entire lives in the ocean. Adult females do return to beaches on land to lay their eggs, and they often migrate long distances between the areas where they feed and where they nest. There are seven species of marine turtles, five of which are found in the waters of the Florida Keys. These air-breathing reptiles are well adapted to life in the marine world, with streamlined bodies and large flippers.
A close relative of the Green Turtle, the Hawksbill Turtle is named for their narrow, pointed beak-like nose. One way to tell the difference between the Green and the Hawksbill is the Hawksbill has 2 pairs of plates between the eyes, the Green only one.
The Hawksbill has a very distinctive pattern of overlapping scales on their shells which can be quite beautiful. Unfortunately, these colored and patterned shells make them highly-valuable and commonly sold as “tortoiseshell” in markets, according to the WWF.
Hawksbills are found mostly throughout the world’s tropical oceans, commonly on coral reefs. They feed mainly on sponges, using their pointed beaks to extract them from corals crevices on reefs. They also eat sea anemones and jellyfish. This is probably the most common turtle for divers diving Key largo waters.
The most abundant of all the marine turtle species in U.S. waters, the Loggerhead is also one of the easiest to identify due to…yes, because of it’s huge head. Often seen “sleeping” while nestled among the coral, they are also known to be one of the most comfortable when interacting with scuba divers.
But persistent population declines due to pollution, shrimp trawling, and development in their nesting areas, among other factors, have kept this wide-ranging sea creature on the threatened species list since 1978.
The Florida Keys were known for it’s large population of Green Turtles decades ago before they were hunted by humans to near extinction worldwide. A very close relative of the Hawksbill, Greens are considered very good to eat. I hate to admit it, but I remember as a little boy eating turtle sandwiches with my parents at Manny & Isa’s Restaurant in Islamorada, our favorite spot back then. Of course at the time we had no idea that they were being fished into near-extinction. But I know now, and I wouldn’t eat sea turtle anywhere!
Sea turtles are the living representatives of a group of reptiles that has existed on Earth and travelled our seas for the last 100 million years. They are a fundamental link in marine ecosystems and help maintain the health of coral reefs and sea grass beds. – WWF
I remember very well running the Sea Dweller III out to the reef one day many years ago, and coming upon a huge, black object on the surface of the water. Coming up beside it, I realized that it was moving…and it was like nothing I had ever seen before! With huge dark ridges and about 5 – 6 feet long, I realized that it was a Leatherback Turtle. A truly amazing site!
While rare, they are found in Florida Keys waters, (I’ve never had a diver on the boat say they saw one underwater on a dive). The Leatherback is the largest of the turtles and the largest reptile living today. They can grow to be over 6 feet and can weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds. They are the only turtle that lacks a hard, bony shell.
We hope to continue to Dive Key Largo waters with Sea Turtles, as they are one of the reasons we dive in the first place! While human activity has helped to endangered them, we can also act to save them! With awareness and an appreciation of the fragility of these magnificent creatures, we can all contribute to their preservation! Now let’s go scuba diving and find some more turtles…
Thanks to all!
Rob & Your Sea Dwellers Staff
Here at Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo, we know how we feel about scuba diving! You could say we kind of like it…a lot actually, and we’re going to assume you more or less feel the same way. So we are all scuba divers, we love the underwater world, we love the marine life, corals, beautiful blue water…all the things that go with our sport. There are different skill levels, depending on how much diving we’ve done, what training we’ve received, etc. But there are some “universal truths” for scuba diving that we all can appreciate and hopefully follow. These were supplied to us from Dive.in, a great site I hope you check it out!
Here in Key Largo, Florida Keys, the diving is known to be some of the best in North America, for various reasons like abundant marine life, temperate conditions, island life, etc. Certainly the points listed below can help maximize your Key Largo scuba diving experience while at the same time helping to preserve it for future generations!
Thanks again to Dive.in for this cool and useful article!
Your Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo Staff!
Having talked about what the strobe does for you and the things that you need to think about to use them effectively, it’s time to consider the variety of ways we can use the strobes to enhance our underwater pictures.
The first thing to understand is a formula. That is that Total light equals the sum of Vertical light and Horizontal light. This diagram illustrates the concept. We can produce infinite variations of the picture by changing the amount of light from each source being used in an image.
As we are scuba diving, we adjust the amount of vertical light in the picture, so we will be changing the color of the background. We can take the background from black, where we allow no vertical light in, to a light blue where we add a lot of ambient light. This is probably a good place to start to compose our picture. Start by turning your strobes off and take a sequence of photographs varying the aperture with a shutter speed of 1/125th until you get the background color you are looking for. Point the camera, with the sun at your back into the blue water. Quite frequently, if you are scuba diving in the tropical waters of Key Largo, a good place to finish will be about f8 at 1/125th. at an ISO of 200. Obviously, less light will make the background darker, and more light, lighter. Once you have a background color to your liking, turn on one of the strobes and point it at your subject. Start on low power on the strobe and take a photograph. Review the result in the LCD screen and adjust the strobe power accordingly, increasing or decreasing the power. You can then turn on the second strobe to fill in any areas you think could do with some extra light.
In this picture of a Nassau Grouper, the shutter speed was 1/200th of a second with a small aperture and the strobe power was on high. This eliminated the vertical (ambient) light and made the backgound dark to avoid lighting a distracting background.
By contrast, this picture of a scuba diver on Molasses reef used a slower shutter speed of 1/125th with an aperture of F9 to allow more of the background light in to show the divers in the distance and give an idea of the size of the reef. The power of the strobe was increased until the lighting on the Atlantic Spadefish highlighted them just enough.
This picture of Divemaster Nick scuba diving on one of his rare days off used a slow shutter speed of 1/60th of a second combined with a large exposure of f5.6 to lighten the water on what was a fairly dark day. When you use a slower shutter speed on a moving object with a strobe, there isn’t much risk of motion blur because the strobe, which is lighting the foreground object is only typically illuminated for 1/1000th of a second, effectively freezing any motion.
This close up of a butterfly fish taken on Snapper ledge, was again taken with a fast shutter speed and small aperture to avoid lighting the brain coral in the background. It was taken using only a single flash to create an interesting shadow and provide some depth into what would otherwise be a “flat” photograph.
Remember that the most important point about using strobes is to use them to balance the horizontal and vertical light. We also use it to bring out the hidden color of underwater life. These two photographs of the Spanish Anchor on Molasses reef illustrate the point. The photo on the left was taken using only vertical light. The one on the right balances the horizontal and vertical light to get a nice blue background and uses the horizontal light to bring out the hidden color.
It also shows how important it is to follow the golden rule of Underwater Photography – While you are scuba diving and taking photographs, get close to the subject and when you think you’re close enough – get closer!
Happy shooting to all you Underwater Photographers out there. Keep diving, and keep shooting, as the best way to improve your abilities with a camera is experience, especially in the particularly demanding environment of salt water. And heck, it’s a great excuse to do more scuba diving in Key Largo after all!
Instructor Dave Jefferiss
For those who want to continue to learn about Underwater Photography, here is information on our “Digital underwater Photography Specialty Course”. (And it’s taught by Instructor Dave himself!)
We just completed another “Reunion Weekend”… this our 9th… and we’re glad to say we think it was a success! This weekend has been a staff favorite, originally intended for our long standing scuba divers, many which have been diving with Sea Dwellers for decades! And by the way, we’re honored to be a dive destination for these wonderful divers who are customers…but most importantly, our friends! How can you dive with someone for years, decades, longer…and not be close?
The weather cooperated greatly, calm seas, blue water…fabulous! REEF, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, was our special guests this year, and everyone was able to participate in a Fish Count and Fish ID activity while diving some of the reefs.
On Saturday, we went to the Elbow Reef and City of Washington Wreck, 2 dive sites we do not visit very often due to it being farther abroad from our normal scuba diving destinations. Everyone seemed to enjoy the sites, as many had not been there before and the conditions were wonderful! We had a good Beach Party Saturday night at the Dive Center, food, beverages, and of course the costume Party. Fun was had by all I believe!
Thanks to everyone who participated, and to those who couldn’t make it this year, (you know who you are)…we hope to see you next year for our 10th Annual…sure to be an extra special event…(we promise!). Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo – Staff
The scuba diving in Key Largo was particularly good this year in Key Largo we’re happy to announce! There are several reasons for that, and we thought we’d go over some of the things that have impacted the diving world this year, at least from the perspective of Key Largo and the Florida Keys. It’s not all good news, as some of the things that have caused the excellent conditions for diving has also caused a bad thing to return for the first time in many years; coral bleaching.
2015 brought calm, warm, clear water scuba diving…and a lot of it! I can’t remember this many good days of diving quite frankly, and there were only a handful of days with bad diving conditions. El Nino is partly responsible for these conditions, as this Pacific Ocean phenomenon generally causes hotter than normal waters in the Atlantic, and generally less wind. We certainly saw that this year! But, it’s a good news-bad news thing…as unfortunately, the warmer than normal water temps brought some bleaching, which we haven’t seen to any great extent in many years. It appears that the Keys were affected less than other areas, like Hawaii for example, but any bleaching is significant. Not all the news is bad on this front, as the Coral Restoration Foundation are making huge strides in “actively restoring our reefs” by harvesting, growing and transplanting corals. Now they are even using data they’ve obtained through operations to harvest and transplant more bleach-resistant strains of corals! Amazing stuff, and hope for the future! (The CRF operates on donations, so for scuba divers who want to help preserve our reefs this is the place to start.)
As many divers already know, Key Largo diving always means marine life. But quite possibly the best in the Caribbean! As many islands throughout the Caribbean struggle with marine life conservation, the Florida Keys has some of the strongest conservation enforcement capabilities in the world. The implementation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has been a windfall for marine conservation here. So all the “no-take” zones, additional rules and enforcement resources have had an effect, as can be seen in the abundance and diversity of the marine life on our reefs and wrecks. Scuba Divers are seeing things that had become almost non-existant…like Goliath Groupers, Spadefish, and Reef Sharks. A very good sign for the reef system here, and of course the strong marine life continues to make Key Largo a world-class dive destination!
Your staff here at Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo wants to thank everyone for a great 2015, a special year of scuba diving! We appreciate your patronage, and hope to see you diving with us again soon!
One thing we need to go diving…a dive boat! We love our Sea Dweller III, and now we’ve upgraded her in many ways. Check out this great new video of our boat by our great friend “JetBlue Tomek”. I think you’ll enjoy the day of great scuba diving on Molasses Reef when much of the video was taken…wow…. clear waters anyoone? Thanks again Tomek! Happy Key Largo diving to everyone!
In our humble opinions, the Spotted Eagle Ray is a magnificent creature and one of our favorites to see while diving Key Largo. This video was taken by Sea Dwellers Dive Center Instructor Jeremy Weeks several days ago while he was diving Molasses Reef. Many of our divers were in the area and were able to enjoy this amazing site as this school of about 40 of them swam by. WOW!
The Spotted Eagle Ray is very distinctive in that it has a flattened body and triangular corners to the pectoral fins that really resemble wings. The snout is rounded and pointed on the tip, resembling a bird’s beak. The tail is whip-like and bears 2 – 6 spines. The Eagle Ray is also distinct in coloring, with it’s topside blackish with brilliant white spots; and the underside bright white.
According to Wikipedia, “Spotted eagle ray preys mainly upon bivalves, crabs, whelks, benthic infauna they also feed on mollusks, crustaceans, particularly malacostracans and also upon hermit crabs, shrimp, octopi, and some small fish.”
Sharks….and hammerheads in particular, especially in the Key Largo & Florida Keys area. There have been several accounts of a Hammerhead coming in and taking a bite out of one in front of divers. Can you imagine? Maybe more scuba diving excitement than you would want? One thing we can tell you for certain after diving Key largo for a couple decades, when we start seeing eagle Rays, we also start seeing hammerheads on our reefs & wrecks. pretty cool!
Since Friday, we’ve seen multiple Eagle Ray sightings off our boats. Come on down, Key Largo diving is excellent this time of year, especially with our friend, the Spotted Eagle Ray joining us!
Best to all!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo