Key Largo is known for it’s diverse and abundant Marine Life. Particularly the schooling fishes such as Snappers, Grunts, Goatfish, Spadefish, Parrotfish, etc. This this is why divers return again and again to dive here. But Key Largo also frequently sees many of the bigger Pelagics on it’s reefs and wrecks. One of the favorites for our divers is the beautiful and majestic Spotted Eagle Ray.
The Spotted Eagle Ray
According toOceana:“Reaching widths of nearly 11 feet (over 3 m), the spotted eagle ray is one of the largest rays, with only the mantas growing bigger. Spotted eagle rays, like all eagle rays, are active swimmers and do not lie motionless on the seafloor, like the closely related whiptail stingrays (e.g., southern stingray). They are foraging predators and are known to eat a variety of invertebrate and fish prey. Just like the name implies, the spotted eagle ray is covered in spots and other markings. It is unmistakable with any other species throughout its range.”
We see Spotted Eagle rays alone, or in pairs, and every so often in schools. Over the years we have seen as many as 20 together gliding across the reef…a sublime sight! Eagle Rays are not fished commercially, by do end up as “bycatch” by commercial fishermen, and again according to Oceana, their numbers are declining due to this in tandem with their low reproductive rate…having between 1-4 pups per litter.
Diving Key Largo is great for marine life, large and small. The beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray is a scuba diver’s favorite, and we’re grateful they choose to share the Key Largo reefs with us and our divers!
A special thanks to Videographer Aaron Davitt for this awesome Video
Over the decades, the reefs of Key Largo have always been abundant with marine life of many species. Sharks included, particularly the common Nurse Shark, a common sight on any reef during any season. Occasionally, scuba divers would come across a Hammerhead, Bull or Reef Shark. But over the last decade or so, the Caribbean Reef Shark has become a much more common resident of the Florida Keys reefs.
Caribbean Reef Sharks – Making their home on the Key Largo Reefs
The Reef Shark is indeed the most common shark on or near to the reef in the Caribbean in general. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but about 8-10 years ago, we started seeing this shark more frequently on opur dive sites in Key Largo. After dives, we noticed our Scuba divers frequently talking about the Caribbean Reef Shark, sometimes spotting them in groups of 2 or even up to 6 or more on one dive! A great development for many reasons as it turns out, which is talked about later in this blog, and it was an especially cool thing for our scuba divers!
According to Wikipedia, “The Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii) is a species of requiem shark, belonging to the family Carcharhinidae. It is found in the tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Brazil, and is the most commonly encountered reef shark in the Caribbean Sea. With a robust, streamlined body typical of the requiem sharks, this species is difficult to tell apart from other large members of its family such as the dusky shark (C. obscurus) and the silky shark.”
Although Caribbean Reef Sharks are known to exhibit aggressive and territorial behavior, they are rarely if ever known to attack humans. In our experience, Reef Sharks can seem curious towards divers when they first enter the water and may even approach and swim quite closely to a scuba diver. Generally however, it seems that they eventually loose interest on repeat dives. They can become more dangerous when being fed, which is illegal in Florida waters, but common in many other dive sites around the Caribbean.
A Great Beauty – And a Positive Sign for Coral Reefs
Sometimes it’s easy to take things for granted when they become more common. This is true for the Caribbean Reef Shark, as they are generally common now on our reefs here in Key Largo. And yet they are truly one of the more beautiful sharks in the Atlantic, as you can see from Photographer Andrew Jalbert’s photographs here, (all taken on a Key Largo reef). Scuba diving with these beautiful & majestic creatures is a thrill and leads one to appreciate their presence. The increase in their numbers on Florida Keys reefs is also considered a positive thing for the coral reef ecosystem, as it generally indicates a healthy abundance & diversity of marine life. As many scuba divers already know, Key Largo reefs are known for their abundance of fish!
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Caribbean reef shark is “Near Threatened”, as it’s population has declined particularly off Belize and Cuba from overfishing, and exploitation continues in other regions also. They are also threatened by the degradation and destruction of their coral reef habitat. Overfishing is not happening in the Florida Keys, as the Caribbean Reef Shark is “prohibited from harvest” in all Florida State waters. This is a great thing for the health of the reef system in general, as the Reef Shark is a critical part of the food chain. Our scuba divers certainly enjoy seeing these beautiful creatures.
Dive with Caribbean Reef Sharks
We can’t guarantee seeing one of these beautiful creatures on any one dive trip in the Florida Keys, but we can say that there’s a pretty darn good chance of seeing one (or many) over the course of a couple/few days of diving Key Largo dive sites. Call today and book your dive charter to find out for yourself!
A Special thanks to Professional Photographer Andrew Jalbert for the use of these amazingly beautiful Caribbean Reef Shark photographs for this article. We’re proud to say Andy has been diving Key Largo with Sea Dwellers Dive Center for over 2 decades now, and we’re constantly amazed by his work! We’re also very thankful for his generosity in the use of these photographs for our articles and blogs. To view more of his work, check out his web site Jalbert Productions.
Are you a scuba diver with a passion for the coral reefs?
Do you want to help save coral reefs from extinction?
At Sea Dwellers Dive Center, our answer is an emphatic YES to both!
The Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) Citizen Scientist Program is a way to be involved and help protect our beautiful coral reefs here in the Florida Keys. Sea Dwellers Dive Center will be taking scuba charters on a regular basis out to CRF reef sites to monitor planted coralks using the fun, easy-to-use smartphone app, OkCoral, you can use your recreational dives on the Florida Reef Tract to help us answer vital questions about the health and survivorship of our coral outplants. This data will make a significant contribution to the success of our mission of coral restoration!
Your data will help us begin to answer things like “which reef habitat has greater coral survivorship?” or “are there differences in genotype performances?” and many other questions.
Coral Restoration Foundation Citizen Scientists can be snorkelers or divers. All you need is a smartphone* and a way of recording data or taking pictures underwater! Dive Key Largo while helping to preserve our precious Florida Keys Reef!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center “CRF Citizen Scientist Dive Schedule” …call 1-800-451-3640 for dates & details!
We’re proud to announce that our very own Blog, the “Key Largo Diving Blog”, has been voted into the Top 25 Scuba Diving Blogs by FEEDSPOT (Link) Content Reader! Thanks so much to FEEDSPOT, and everyone involved in helping to contribute to our Blog! The Key Largo Diving Blog was created to help keep our divers informed about scuba diving Key Largo and scuba diving in general. We thank everyone who follows it and appreciate the feedback we’ve gotten in the past. Thanks again to everyone! -Your Sea Dwellers Staff
In a world where it can be challenging to find clarity and substance; and self-growth is often overlooked, we are given extraordinary opportunities as divers to learn more about ourselves. It does not matter if you are a seasoned recreational scuba diver, a dive professional, or beginning an open water class next week. The fact is both diving and the ocean have an impressive ability to be therapeutic, lend lessons, and heighten self-awareness about all aspects of ourselves in life. Surprisingly enough we may not even realize it.
Among the diverse dive community throughout the world, we have a commonality, a desire to examine the underwater world. It is easy to forget how crucial the ocean is in our everyday lives; it provides a significant source of protein to many worldwide and supplies half of our breathable air. As we humor our curiosities through exploration of the deep, we are granted moments to receive powerful information, not just about the ocean, or the amazing world of diving, but about ourselves. Many of these findings have absolutely nothing to do with diving, rather are manifested through diving processes and the water; from planning that may take months, prepping gear, dive execution, or simply meditating underwater enjoying beautiful Molasses Reef here in Key Largo. As we learn to control ourselves in the ocean, control our equipment, and become more experienced divers, we gain confidence.
This enables us to expand personally, enjoy our dive experiences, gain a higher sense of appreciation, and last but not least- HAVE FUN!
I have encountered much of this in my experiences diving at all levels. Most of the time well after a dive- weeks, months, or even years! I know that these experiences have helped me mold who I am, in everyday life. And there’s no need to search, I feel like it just happens. On the contrary, I feel that many potential self-awareness opportunities have gone right over my head! And there is nothing wrong with that! Most often it is welcoming to take a break from our lives, take in the ocean, and just dive; which is therapeutic in and of itself. Not everyone has a desire to tap into their consciousness. I truly believe people grow when they want it. (Here’s a great article that explores scuba diving as Therapy.)
This post is simply a reminder that a higher level to diving exists beyond advancing in certifications, mastering skills, getting the latest and greatest equipment, or knowing all the hot tips and tricks. But remember, all of those examples are what potentially catalyzes further awareness. I encourage all future and current divers to come join us for some beautiful diving, lots of fun, and gorgeous weather here in Key Largo. Escape to paradise to take a break and clear your head of the daily stressors on land. And if you choose, tap into yourself, through enrichment and discovery.
“Sometimes all we need is a solid break from our everyday lives to consciously focus on our personal development.”
The Future of the Coral Reefs in Key Largo by David Jefferiss
The current situation:
NOAA estimates that US coral reefs, including the ones we dive on regularly in the Florida Keys, contribute about $3.4Bn annually to the US economy. Worldwide some 500 million people depend on reefs for food and income. In addition, barrier reefs like Molasses reef and French reef that we dive on the Sea Dweller III here in Key Largo provide protection to the shore and reduce potential flood and storm damage.
Coral reefs today are suffering as a result of multiple threats. Some global and some local:
In the fairly recent past, Carysfort reef, north of Key Largo was a model of a healthy reef, with huge stands of Elk horn coral. This picture from 2012 shows some decline. It is estimated that some 90% of the coral on the reef has been lost today.
When we talk about coral, most often we are referring to Stony Corals which are the basic building blocks of the reef.
Stony Corals come in several types. Branching corals, like the Elkhorn coral on Carysfort reef. Brain corals, like the one on the right on Snapper ledge.
Or encrusting coral. This one is from Hens and Chickens, just south of Key Largo. Stony Corals live as a result of a symbiotic relationship between the coral polyp and an alga called “zooxanthellae”. It is this alga that gives the coral it’s natural color. The alga is a plant which photosynthesizes to produce sugars. The coral is an animal which consumes the sugars produced by the algae and excretes waste. The algae use the waste as a type of fertilizer to grow.
When the coral is stressed, by any of the mechanisms described above, the coral expels the algae. This results in what is called coral bleaching. This occurs most often when ocean temperatures rise above normal. This photograph from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia shows what the coral looks like when this happens.
Research from the Great Barrier Reef has shown that branching corals are more effected by bleaching than the massive corals like brain coral. Coral bleaching on its own does not necessarily kill the coral. It can and does recover but bleaching makes the coral more susceptible to disease which will kill it.
What can a scuba diver do?
Obviously the most important action that mankind can take to stop the loss of coral reefs is to reduce global warming. Unfortunately, the United States, unlike 195 other nations, decided to withdraw from the Paris Climate accord in 2017. There is hope however that sanity may prevail. Many state, local and business leaders are taking action to meet emission reduction targets despite the Federal government.
Another way that we can take local action to resolve a global problem is by reducing pollution. The Florida Keys is spending $939m to replace the old septic tank systems with wastewater treatment plants. This has already shown measurable improvement in the water quality on our reefs.
The third way is to try to replace coral by growing it in a protected nursery and transplanting it onto the reef. This photo shows the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) nursery in Key Largo where stag horn coral is being grown to be replanted onto our reefs. The CRF has a 5 year grant to replant Carysfort reef with stag and elkhorn coral.
.Science is working on several innovative approaches to reverse the loss of coral cover on our reefs. One is to introduce higher temperature resistant algae into the coral allowing it to thrive in warmer water. Another is to transplant corals from warmer waters such as the Arabian gulf where corals have a naturally developed tolerance to higher temperatures. Perhaps one of the most si-fi solution being worked on today is through genetic engineering of the algae to produce more temperature resistant strains. This uses state of the art gene editing using CRIPER/Csa9 tools.
If we can be successful in these efforts who knows?
“Molasses Reef is still a beautiful reef. But perhaps one day we can look forward to scuba diving on Molasses reef with additional branching corals transplanted from places like the Great Barrier Reef… like the ones in these photographs!”
Anything is possible, and there is hope if we take action and work together to save the reefs of Key Largo and the world!
David Jefferiss Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
2017 is over. Whew! And while my father wisely told me when I was younger, “never wish your life away”, I have to admit that, like many people down here in the Florida Keys, I cannot say I’m sorry to see 2017 over with. It was a tough year for many people in the Florida Keys, as well as many islands in the Caribbean. After 10 – 12 years of relative quiet, multiple Hurricanes ravaged different parts of the Caribbean. Irma, Harvey, Maria… and many people lost many things dear to them.
Which brings me back to my island, Key Largo. Yes, we were affected by Irma. Most of us lost power for at least for a few days, and some low areas on the ocean saw some flooding. We all were in “cleanup mode” for weeks, clearing downed trees, etc. Key Largo certainly looked like a mess. Scuba diving certainly wasn’t on our minds in the weeks afterwards!
But man, Key Largo was lucky.
Key Largo was spared the direct hit when the storm drifted West and made landfall about 85 miles south of us in the Lower Keys. Consequently, the southern islands of the Florida Keys are far from recovered, and the last I heard some still do not have power. Buildings are being repaired, homes gutted and moving towards restoration, boats still in places they shouldn’t be in…it goes on. And then there are the islands further south… Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and poor little Anguilla! When I heard that Anguilla was due to get hit by a second Cat 5 storm in less than a month…wow! I cannot imagine what those poor folks must be going through and my heart bleeds for them, their families and their homes. Not to mention their livelihoods.
The 2017 Holiday Season
Business has been down in Key Largo for sure since the storm. Many folks still don’t know, understandably, that Key Largo was spared the worst aspects of Irma. Many don’t know the island is open for business and has been for at least a couple months and if you were to drive down to Key Largo tomorrow, it would be tough to know there was a Hurricane here at all.
December was our best month so far since Irma, and the Holiday season, which is one of the busiest couple weeks here normally, was pretty great, Many folks were in town, the weather was sunny, the scuba diving good, hotels full, and businesses here had a great shot in the arm. It was a wonderful thing for everyone on Key Largo after a tough Fall. So now I can only think about our brothers down south in the lower Keys and what they are still dealing with, and my heart goes out to them. Same for those further out in the Caribbean, because after all, we are all brothers on this planet ultimately, right? So I’m more aware then ever of the difficulties still facing many as a result of the busy storm season we just had in 2017. And after a good Holiday Season in Key Largo, I can’t help but to feel truly fortunate and thankful.
I graduated from Denison University in Ohio with a degree in biology and environmental studies. Before attending graduate school for marine conservation, I wanted to take some time off and gain experience, so I moved down to the sunny Florida Keys to be by the ocean and focus on the marine environment. Not to mention….to go scuba diving! I had always heard that Florida Keys diving is the best in the states, and in particular, in Key Largo, known as the “Dive Capital of America”. Since moving down here, I have had the opportunity to witness Florida’s environment changing; from working/diving with Sea Dwellers Dive Center, to volunteering in the Everglades, this is truly a unique destination with a huge amount of biodiversity.
With the recent release of Chasing Coral on Netflix, coral reefs have never been such a hot button topic. Watching the coral bleaching events they recorded on the Great Barrier Reef and the rapid degradation of fish life in that ecosystem is heartbreaking. This documentary is informative as it shows the viewer the rapid changes that reefs are undergoing, but it focuses in only one area of the world. So what about the reefs of the Florida Keys?
In recent history, coral reefs have been faced with large scale bleaching due to warmer water temperatures and ocean acidification. In Chasing Coral you are shown a rapid bleaching event, but it doesn’t always happen that quickly. In the Keys, we have faced a few bleaching events and the reefs are not thriving as they once were even five years ago. The reefs are still abundant with marine life and are gorgeous to dive, but there are a lot more white corals and algae covered corals appearing on our reefs. The reefs are changing.
The vast majority of scientists agree, the decline of coral reefs globally is unarguably driven by humans. The rapid rate at which these events are occurring make it hard for some corals to evolve to these changes and this is one of the main reason we are seeing these massive coral die outs. Scientists have already identified the issues and have proposed solutions to these problems years ago, however, getting widespread change has only started to become more pressing as the world is realizing what climate change is affecting.
Widespread change will not begin to happen until individuals start to make changes in their daily lives.
Things you can do to help reduce your footprint and stave off climate change to help our Reefs in Key Largo survive;
Buy a reusable water bottle! Plastics are one of the main marine pollutants and are responsible for killing many marine organisms every year.
Use reusable grocery bags. Going along with the plastic theme, less is best! Plus, most grocery stores will take a small amount of money off your bill for bringing your own bags.
Car pool, ride bikes, use public transportation. The emissions from cars are one of the greenhouses gases responsible for climate change.
Eat less meat. You don’t need to cut it out of your diet completely, but factory farms are one of the main sources that greenhouse gases are emitted from, and billions of gallons of water are used to keep a farm running. One hamburger is the equivalent of someone taking 32 showers, so the less meat you consume, less water will be used and the stress on the environment will be lessened.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But mostly reduce. Many people have begun to recycle both at home and at work, which is wonderful! But out of the three r’s, the least you can do is recycle. The best thing to do is reduce your consumption of goods. Less plastics purchased means less plastics that need to be produced!
Be a responsible boater. This means making sure you don’t anchor on a reef or ground your boat on a reef.
Be a responsible fisherman. With the return of mini season upon us for lobsters, it is important to remember that while it is exciting to find and catch lobster, be mindful of what you’re touching and standing on when you’re looking. Touching coral can hurt or kill it, and breaking pieces off because you were trying to catch a lobster isn’t benefitting anything. Additionally, that means not fishing in sanctuaries, out of season, bringing in undersize fish/lobster, and adhering to the guidelines for your local area.
Dive with a Blue Star Operator. Boats and dive shops that are blue star operators have made a commitment to protect and educate about coral reef conservation. Sea Dwellers is a Blue Star Operator
Be a responsible diver. This means not touching the reef, not standing on the reef, and keeping all your gauges and consoles from dangling below you. As a diver you are mainly down there as an observer, which means not touching or chasing the wildlife.
Don’t fly first class.Flying emits a lot of greenhouse gases into the environment and contributes to about 5% of warming annually. This number will continue to increase every year as air travel becomes more popular. So, don’t fly first class. The larger seats and extra room means that there are less people that can be on one flight, so each individual on that flight has a larger carbon footprint in turn.
Contribute to the CRF – The Coral Restoration Foundation is doing amazing things cultivating, growing, and transplanting corals onto existing reefs and also new areas that are deemed able to start a new reef. Direct action at it’s best!
Another great piece of news is that with the growth and popularity of scuba diving in the last 15 years, more people are seeing firsthand the effects of climate change. This means that more people will care about these bleaching events and die offs and more people will want to do their part to help prevent more bleaching events. As Baba Dioum said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love…” and I believe that to be true, so if you aren’t a scuba diver, there is another reason to become certified. As a diver, you will want to protect your favorite dive spots and return year after year and if anything changes hopefully see new growth. For more information, see this link to the NRDC website.
Together we can make a difference, the marine life you see on your next dive will appreciate it!
We all want to be good at what we do, especially when it’s doing something that we love! Scuba Diving is a passion for many, and we see this passion everyday in the divers we take out to the reef here in Key Largo. We meet many wonderful people from all over the globe diving Key Largo with us. Many are experienced divers, some not. Usually the more we do something, the better we are at it. This holds true for the most part for scuba diving, but not always. We come across some that have a good number of dives in their log book, but you wouldn’t necessarily know this from the way they act while diving with us. We understand mind you, that not everyone lives close to great dive sites, or any dive sites at all and therefore it’s tougher to gain experience. So this is not criticism, just a fun way to give you our thoughts about scuba diving based on all the divers we bring out to the dive sites of Key Largo every year.
Improve Your Scuba Diving Skills Now!
We’ve put this infographic together using input from our staff here at Sea Dwellers Dive Center. These tips are compiled based on what we see on our boats here while diving Key Largo. We wanted to give you some things to think about, and tried to not stick to the same old tips you’ve seen before. Hopefully you will find it interesting, helpful and fun! There are many articles on this same discussion, here is one we like if you want some more info on this!
I remember clearly to this day watching on our television as an Octopus slithered towards the round glass jar sitting on the reef bottom with a large lobster inside of it. A big cork was covering the opening of the glass jar, and was the only thing keeping the octopus from devouring the lobster. Slowly the octopus inspected the jar with it’s arms, (octopus do not have “tenacles” they have arms), covering all surfaces of the jar repeatedly. Eventually, this amazingly intelligent creature zeroed in on the cork and r Recognizing that it was the key to his meal, he popped it open and that was it for the poor hapless lobster!
“The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau”
This was the show, a series back in the 70’s and I was a huge fan. I did not miss an episode, and it was one of the main reasons I knew I wanted to be a scuba diver from a very early age. Growing up in South Florida the underwater environment was always front and center, and I was a huge fan of Jacques Cousteau like many others of my generation. The series was about the intrepid undersea explorer circling the globe on his floating scientific laboratory, the Calypso. What adventures he had! A pioneer in marine study, the red-capped Frenchman introduced generations of people to the mysteries of the seas.
Many younger scuba divers today are not aware, but in 1942, Cousteauinvented an underwater demand valve system that could supply divers with air when they breathed. This demand regulator was called “Aqua-Lung”, (same as the scuba equipment manufacturer today), and it eventually opened the door to scuba diving for everyone.
The Birth of Recreational Diving
“The impact of the Aqua-Lung cannot be overstated. It was the first efficient and safe scuba set that allowed divers to stay underwater for long periods of time at deep depths. It was a small contraption with a simple design that was reliable and relatively inexpensive. This monumental advance in diving technology laid the foundation for the creation and growth of the recreational scuba diving market. Up until that point, diving equipment, though widely used for military and commercial purposes, was not available to the general public for recreational or sport purposes. The very idea of diving for fun, or to explore, was virtually unheard of.” See source link
A Setback for Calypso
Some time ago, the Cousteau Society set out to bring back the Iconic Calypso, starting with renovating the ship. Now it seems that although the renovations were pushing ahead, there has been a setback. On September 12 at around 2:30 am, a fire broke out and damaged the legendary ship.I’ll hope that one day the Calypso can ply the waters again in honor of Cousteau and everything he accomplished.
As I sit here in Key Largo, Florida Keys, sometimes referred to as the “Dive Capital of the World”, how can I not but look back admiringly at the undisputed “Father of Scuba Diving” Jacques Cousteau? As someone who has been fortunate enough to make a living doing something he loves, scuba diving, I can only look back at this giant admiringly, and offer him my silent gratitude. A gratitude that began when I was but a child.