As well as the continental United States’ only coral barrier reef, the Florida Keys feature unique dive spots that provide unparalleled adventures for underwater enthusiasts. The majestic Christ of the Deep statue, an artificial reef created from a historic Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad bridge, and much more await divers in the island chain.
Christ of the Deep
Divers and snorkelers from all over the world travel to Key Largo to check the “Christ of the Deep” dive off their underwater bucket list. A symbol of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the magnificent undersea work of art is an 8.6-foot-tall, 4,000-pound bronze statue installed as an underwater shrine.
Created by Italian sculptor Guido Galletti, the statue stands on a 20-ton concrete base in approximately 25 feet of water at the Key Largo Dry Rocks.
The Christ of the Deep statue, one of the most photographed underwater sites in the world, is a popular spot for undersea weddings. Photo: Bob Care
A duplicate of the “Christ of the Abyss” situated in 50 feet of water off the coast of Italy, the “Christ of the Deep” was a gift to the Underwater Society of America from industrialist and undersea sportsman Egidi Cressi. It has become one of the most photographed underwater sites in the world and is a popular spot for underwater weddings.
Hen and Chickens Reef
The Hen and Chickens Reef is a Sanctuary Preservation Area within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, located in the middle of Hawk Channel two miles southeast of Plantation Key.
The beautiful patch reef of clustered corals resembles a mother hen and her chicks around her — hence the name.
With a maximum depth of 22 feet, the colorful reef is filled with a wide variety of fish and sea life, making it popular with both novice divers and snorkelers. For advanced divers, it is a favorite second dive spot following a deep wreck dive.
Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, lauded on its completion as the most unique railway in the world, connected the Keys with mainland Florida and each other for the first time in 1912. Portions of its structure lie submerged in 115 feet of water at a lesser-known site referred to locally as Marathon Reef or 7 Mile Bridge Reef, located approximately 3.2 nautical miles off Sombrero Beach.
Steel debris was taken from the center swing span of the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Image courtesy of Keith Mille, FWC
A favorite among experienced divers as one of Marathon’s challenging drift dives, the artificial reef site was created in July 1982. At that time, 4,500 tons of concrete and steel debris taken from the center swing span of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, also called the Moser Channel Bridge, were sunk.
Today the massive remnants provide refuge to abundant populations of large pelagic and reef fish, corals, colorful gorgonians, and other plant and invertebrate marine life among the superstructure’s lateral bracing, fenders, gears and circular bearings that supported the bridge operator’s shed.
Divers can explore the concrete and steel rubble spread over a 1.6-acre area and rising off a flat sandy bottom as much as 30 feet in some areas.
Key West offers divers nearby offshore wreck and artificial reef sites including the unique Stargazer project, created by metal sculptor Ann Labriola and resting some 5 miles southwest of the island city.
Lying in 22 feet of water, the 200-foot-long creation is composed of 10 steel cutouts of star constellations, each weighing between 2,000 and 8,000 pounds. Labriola’s artistry pays homage to ancient mariners who relied on celestial navigation, using the stars as their guide.
Each pattern is home to abundant marine life.