One of the goals of the national marine sanctuary system is to provide opportunities for people to learn about our nation’s maritime heritage. Diving Shipwrecks. Therefore, many historical sites within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are open to diving and snorkeling.
The exceptions are those sites located within the sanctuary’s Special-use Research Only Areas. These “no-entry” zones are set aside for research purposes and no snorkeling or diving is allowed within them. Research-only Areas are located at Tennessee Reef, Conch Reef, Looe Key patch reef, and Eastern Sambo. The Tortugas South Ecological Reserve is also closed to diving and snorkeling.
If you are interested in diving or snorkeling shipwrecks within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, we encourage you to check out the sanctuary’s Shipwreck Trail [See Below]. These historic ships lie scattered along the treacherous coral reefs and buried a few miles off shore. The nine ships along this Shipwreck Trail have many tales to tell, from the stories of individuals who came before us to why they were here and their difficulties in navigating these waters.
Visitors are encouraged to explore the sites along the trail. An underwater guide is available for each site on the Shipwreck Trail, providing the shipwreck and mooring buoy positions, history, a site map, and information about marine life that divers might encounter. Conditions on the Shipwreck Trail sites vary from easy dives in shallow water to deeper dives of l00 feet or more where swift currents may be encountered. Some of the deeper sites require mooring to submerged buoys.
Remember that if you do dive or snorkel on shipwrecks in the sanctuary, be respectful of these resources and do not disturb them.
Within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary lies a trail of historic shipwrecks, scattered along the coral reefs and buried in the sandy shallows a few miles off shore. The nine ships along this Shipwreck Trail have many tales to tell, from the stories of individuals who came before us to why they were here and their difficulties in navigating these waters.
Visitors are encouraged to explore the sites along the trail. An underwater guide is available for each site on the Shipwreck Trail, providing the shipwreck and mooring buoy positions, history, a site map, and information about marine life divers might encounter. Conditions on the Shipwreck Trail sites vary from easy dives in shallow water to deeper dives of l00 feet or more where swift currents may be encountered. Some of the deeper sites require mooring to submerged buoys.
Please help protect the sites on the Shipwreck Trail, and all the sanctuary’s maritime heritage resources, so that they may be enjoyed by future generations. When diving, remember to control your buoyancy, since shipwreck structures can be as fragile as the marine life they support. Disturbance and removal of artifacts is prohibited. It’s best to leave these pieces of history where they are, for other divers to enjoy and for historians to document.
In 20 feet of water, four miles south-southeast of Duck Key, lie the remains of a three-masted iron-rigged and reinforced wooden-hull bark. The major features of this ship, locally known as the Conrad and believed to be the Adelaide Baker, are scattered over a square quarter-mile area.
The Amesbury, locally known as Alexander’s Wreck, was built as a U.S. Naval destroyer escort in 1943 and was later converted to a high-speed transport vessel. While the vessel was being towed to deep water to be sunk as an artificial reef, it grounded and broke up in a storm before it could be refloated.
The Benwood was built in England in 1910 and sunk in 1942 when it collided with another ship. She lies between French Reef and Dixie Shoals on the bottom of a low profile reef and sand, in depths ranging from 25 to 45 feet.
In 25 feet of water east of Key Largo, the remains of the City of Washington lie on Elbow Reef. On July 10, 1917, while being towed by a tug, the City of Washington ran aground and was a total loss within minutes.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Duane lies upright on a sandy bottom in 120 feet of water one mile south of Molasses Reef off Key Largo. After being decommissioned on August 1, 1985, as the oldest active U.S. military vessel, the Duane was donated to the Keys Association of Dive Operators for use as an artificial reef.
The Eagle lies on her starboard side in 110 feet of water three miles northeast of Alligator Reef Light. On the night of December 19, 1985, while waiting to be sunk as an artificial reef next to the Alexander Barge, the Eagle broke from her moorings.
Although not confirmed, this shipwreck may be the North America, built in Bath, Maine, in 1833 and lost November 25, 1842, while carrying dry goods and furniture. She lies in 14 feet of water in the sand and grass flats north of Delta Shoals, just east of Sombrero Key Light.
The San Pedro, a member of the 1733 Spanish treasure fleet caught by a hurricane in the Straits of Florida, sank in 18 feet of water one mile south of Indian Key. She is the oldest shipwreck on the Shipwreck Trail, with the mystique of a Spanish treasure shipwreck to draw divers and snorkelers alike.
The Thunderbolt was intentionally sunk on March 6, 1986, as part of the Florida Keys Artificial Reef Association project. She now lies intact and upright on a sand bottom in 120 feet of water four miles south of Marathon and Key Colony Beach.