So you fly into Miami, maybe Ft Lauderdale, and a little over an hour later you’re driving across a bridge onto the first island of the Florida Keys, Key Largo. You see the natural beauty of this unique ecosystem all around you. Plush green tropical islands surrounded by blue water and bridges spanning the distance between them, sometimes over distances too far to see both ends. Beautiful and unique in North America. This is why the Florida Keys are sometimes referred to as “America’s Caribbean”. After your drive down from the mainland, you are in Key Largo. You’ve heard it said that the best diving Florida Keys is in Key Largo, right? Could this be true and if so, why?
Key Largo is one of the longest continuous land masses separating the waters of the Florida Bay, (the West side of the islands), from the water flowing through our reefs on the Atlantic side, (the East side of the islands). These Florida Bay waters, and then the Gulf of Mexico waters farther south, have a different temperature and salinity content than the waters on the Atlantic side of the islands. When you have these waters mix over the reefs, it is damaging to their development. Hence, Key Largo provides the largest barrier to this happening and has always therefore had a larger, healthier reef track than the other islands in the Florida Keys. So yes, the “best scuba diving Florida Keys” is off Key Largo!
To be more specific, the largest, most dynamic reef in all the Florida Keys is Molasses Reef off Key Largo. It is by far one of the most famous Dive Sites not only in the Florida Keys, but also all the Caribbean! According to the REEF Foundation, Molasses Reef has one of the largest and most diverse fish populations in all the Caribbean, we are proud to say! The best scuba diving in the Florida Keys in general is off key Largo, specifically, the best dive site in the Florida keys is Molasses Reef.
When divers explore for the “best scuba diving Florida Keys“, they need not travel past the first island in the Florida Keys chain coming south from Miami. Key Largo is known as the “Dive Capital of the World” for good reason, it’s close, and beautiful!
One day, maybe you’re watching something on cable, something with people underwater, scuba diving on some beautiful reefs; or maybe it’s just something you always wanted to do and you just decide, “now’s the time”! But one day you decide to do…get Scuba Certified!
So then you call Sea Dwellers Dive Center to book your Course and begin your journey to becoming an Open Water Scuba Diver in the beautiful Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary! After weeks of waiting and completing your online academics, you’ve finally arrived! You’ve done most of the hard work ahead of time, and now to put what you’ve read to practice and take your first breaths underwater. You’ve picked the best diving the states have to offer for your first open water dives and to begin your adventures as a certified scuba diver.
The morning of your first day you arrive at the shop and get your rental gear for the next few days of diving. You meet up with one of our instructors at the pool and there, you learn to set up your gear and take your first breaths underwater. For many people, this is an exciting and new experience that causes a bit of anxiety. The anxiety will slowly fade away as you become more comfortable with the gear and begin practicing skills in the pool. You start in the shallow end to get acclimated and as the pool session continues, you make your way to the deep end to do more skills and get a feel for how the gear works.
After you complete your pool session, you have some time to grab lunch at one of our many local restaurants.
After lunch, you head over to the dock where you get ready to go out for your first ocean dives. By the time the dive boat arrives at the site, your Scuba Instructor has given you a briefing and explained what skills you’ll be doing and what wildlife you may be seeing. When we are at the site, your instructor will be awaiting your giant stride entrance into the water and your first open water scuba dive in Key Largo. Nothing is quite like the first time you put your mask in the water and see the beautiful reef ecosystem below you that is unlike any terrestrial environment you’ve seen before. The vibrant colors of both corals and fish, and the diversity of species located only 30 minutes from shore is something that looks like it belongs in the movie Avatar more than Earth. After your first dive, you and your Scuba Instructor will get ready to do your second dive of the day and explore more of the reef.
On day two, we take our dive students to do another pool session. This extra pool session is to ensure the maximum comfort and mastery of the skills required to become a certified scuba diver. After this session, you will again have a break for lunch and be joining us on the dock for the afternoon dive. By day two, the comfort levels are higher and the dives become more enjoyable. The reefs will be teeming with life and more of these dives can be spent seeing the wildlife around you. After these four dives and the completion of all the skills, you are now a certified diver! But that’s not the end of your Open Water certification journey with Sea Dwellers.
For our open water students, we include three days of scuba diving. This is 2 more open water dives than is required, and 2 more than most others offer! Our Certification Course has been very popular, and this is one reason why. The more diving you are able to do the more comfortable and proficient you become in the water. This is our Philosophy, and from the feedback we’ve gotten, most agree with it! Finally, you will be given a temporary dive certification card and you are free to dive on your own (with a buddy, of course!) sans instructor and skill demonstrations!
Lots of family fun! Come on down and join us for some Key Largo Scuba Diving!
– Divemater Natalie
What a blast we had again this year at our annual “Sea Dwellers Dive Center Reunion Weekend”! We were a bit worried, the weather had gotten erratic on us, (after a great year overall), and we had a terrible weekend prior to the event. But the dive Gods were on our side and the Key Largo weather cleared the day before the first of our 4 days of diving.
Once again, we had a great bunch of folks join us, most of which we’ve known for years…no, decades really! The great states of California, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Florida, Wisconsin, and New Jersey were represented, (I know I’ve left someone out..sorry!).
The scuba diving was good, seas calm…and much marine life was experienced. Many of our scuba divers know each other, and have been diving together for years also. This weekend always brings like-minded people together to do what we all love a lot, scuba diving, in a tropical environment, Key Largo, Florida Keys! What more can you ask for?
The Sea Dwellers’ Staff enjoys this weekend. It’s a great bunch of people we’ve known for so long that it’s like, well..a family reunion! Good friends, good camaraderie, good scuba diving, good environment. We feel lucky to have such great people diving with us for so long!
Here’s just a few pictures from the weekend that we’ve gotten so far…it was a great weekend of Key largo scuba diving! We’ll keep adding some more as we get them and thanks to all divers (and non-divers) who attended!
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!
To most divers who know, Key Largo diving means marine life, and lots of it! In particular, Key Largo and the Florida Keys are known for it’s schooling fishes…and it’s a world class destination in this regard! When people think of coming to Key Largo to Scuba dive, most regular visitors think about these two related species. Whether its looking at large schools of them on the reef, or enjoying a dinner of yellow tail snapper after a fun day of diving, Key Largo makes it’s living on Snappers!
Snapper get their name from their behavior of snapping their jaws when they are hooked. The Grunt, a member of the Snapper family, makes an unusual “grunt” sound when they grind their teeth together. All Snappers are nocturnal feeders and gather in small to large groups which drift in the shadows and under overhangs during the day.
Probably the most frequently seen schooling fish are Blue Stripped Grunts. These were shot on Snapper Ledge, one of our most famous dive sites for schooling fish.
On Molasses reef scuba divers frequently see schools of mahogany snapper mixed in with French grunts. Small mouth grunts can be identified by their smaller size as well as their distinctive yellow stripes.
The Mutton Snapper is one of the larger members of the Snapper family. The larger Snappers tend to be more solitary, and generally can be a bit skittish around scuba divers.
Most fishermen agree…pound for pound, the Snapper is one of the toughest fish to haul in by by hook & Line…
This is a small selection of the members of the Snapper family that you can expect to see when you are scuba diving Key Largo waters with Sea Dwellers Dive Center. Next time you come diving with us, why don’t you try to count the number of different types of Grunts and Snappers you can identify on each dive? It is almost impossible to do a dive off Key Largo without seeing at least two or three species, and I think you will be surprised to see what a large selection you come up with. There are about 10 different species of Snappers commonly seen while diving Key Largo waters.
Thanks to all!
Your Sea Dwellers Staff!
We’re proud to announce this new blog…part of the “Meet the Scuba Instructor” Series, starting with Jeremy Weeks! Instructor Jeremy has been with Sea Dwellers for almost 9 years now, and has certified quite a few divers at this point! We’re happy to say that we get a lot of good feedback about Jeremy from our customers, (just check out our TripAdvisor Page)…which is good for everyone. Scuba diving is not a “natural” thing for many folks starting out, and Jeremy has a knack for making people comfortable in the water so they can enjoy diving. At Sea Dwellers we believe that “diving is fun”, and should not be a high-pressure situation, so we strive to create an easy-going, safe atmosphere for people to learn in. All of our Instructors have adopted this philosophy, and we pride ourselves on our Instruction. Being a good Dive Instructor starts with enjoying what you do, and as you will see from this interview, Jeremy loves to scuba dive!
A special thanks to our good friend and great scuba diver Tomek for creating this wonderful video! Tomek is part of the JetBlue Team, and we’re extremely proud to consider ourselves the “JetBlue Dive Center”!
You can check out Tomek, Jeremy, Sea Dwellers and some of the JetBlue staff we’ve certified here on the “Scuba Blue” website!
We hope you enjoy Jeremy’s Interview and thanks to all!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
“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
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
In the last “Underwater Photography Series”, Part 4, we covered some of the basics about shooting using available light. In this post, we’ll be talking about how using a flash changes the equation. We will also cover some of the basics of using a strobe, like positioning the strobes to produce the best picture. Photography while scuba diving cannot realize it’s ultimate potential unless we master the Strobe!
The primary advantage of using a strobe is that it adds back the light spectrum that was lost as we scuba dive into deeper water. That enables us to capture all of the magnificent color that is difficult to get as we go deeper. As this picture of Capt Scott diving on the Wreck of the Duane off Key Largo shows, it’s difficult to believe the beautiful color in all of the coral at 100ft. But, strobes bring with them their own set of issues.
The first is that the power of the strobe to light the subject falls off very quickly. In fact, to be technical, the power of the light is inversely proportionally to the square of the distance. Probably it’s easier to understand looking at a diagram.
2 ft away, the light has 1/4 of the power it had at 1ft and at a distance of 3ft it only has 1/9th of the power! So if you are using a strobe, the golden rule of underwater photography is even more important. What’s that I hear you ask?
Rule 1 – Get close to your subject
Rule 2 – If you think you are close – get closer!
The next issue that comes with using a strobe is that the light doesn’t only illuminate the subject that you are interested in, it can also light up the small particles in the water. This is called backscatter and is the bane of the underwater photographer. This is caused by improper positioning of the strobe. I wish I could say that I had to look hard to find a good example in my library, but, if I did, it’s only because I threw out several hundred pictures that had that problem.
In a future post I will talk about ways to overcome backscatter and tricks for shooting in bad visibility. I’ll even show you ways to take it out of a picture by using the magic of Photoshop.
If the strobe is pointing directly at the subject as shown in the left hand diagram, all of the particles between the lens and the subject are being lit as well. If however, the strobe is further away from the lens and aimed so that the flash doesn’t light the area between the lens and the subject, then less of the backscatter will be lit and it won’t show up in the picture. That is one of the reasons that people use extension arms to move the strobes away from the lens and allow them to be aimed away from the subject.
Strobes produce areas of strong light in the middle of their beam. These are called “Hot spots”. When you position your strobes, you need to pay attention that any hot spots are not coming through into the picture. You can generally do this by making sure that the strobes are positioned behind the plane of the port.
Flash Diffusers are commonly used to increase the beam angle of the light. This helps in getting good light coverage when taking wide angle photographs. It also “softens” the light and avoids some of the harsh shadows that can otherwise occur. An additional reason to use a diffuser is to reduce the glare from a highly reflective surface , like this shiny Barracuda. But, like all of the other things we’ve talked about, diffusers can sometimes be a disadvantage. If there are a lot of particles in the water, then they can add to the backscatter problems we talked about earlier. If you’re lucky enough to be diving in the clear waters of Key Largo, this isn’t usually a problem, and you can put the diffusers on and forget about them.
The next question is how many strobes do you need? The answer to this is fairly subjective. A lot of photographers, even though they may have two strobes attached to their camera, often only use one of them. The purpose of the strobes is not to blast the subject with light, but as I said earlier, to add color spectrum.
If you hit the subject with too much light from every direction, all the shadows will be eliminated. This leads to a flat, uninteresting picture. A second strobe can be used for a variety of purposes. It can be used to fill in light to avoid harsh shadow in a macro photograph where the strobe is very close to the subject. It can increase the area of coverage in a wide angle picture, and it can be used to achieve interesting lighting effects.
The second strobe is often referred to as a “fill” light and can be smaller than the primary strobe. Having said that I would recommend that, if you are using 2 strobes, use 2 from the same manufacturer. This can avoid some of the connection problems that are sometimes encountered when trying to mix strobes from 2 manufacturers on one sync cord. As you can see from this photograph of 2 Butterfly Fish taken while scuba diving Key Largo, 2 strobes can create the perfect “blend” of light.
In the next chapter, we will be talking about how to take advantage of the best of the available light and blend it with your strobe light to create your optimum image by using them in combination. We will focus on the creative alternatives available to the scuba diver/underwater photographer to produce an image that conveys the feeling as well of the detail of the photograph.
See you for the next installment, and happy scuba diving to all!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center Instructor Dave Jefferiss