Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
You’ve been snorkeling off a tourist catamaran in Key West, and you’ve finned within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary—but you’ve hardly scratched the surface of this vast, watery wonderland. Designated a marine sanctuary in 1990, the protected area covers nearly 3,000 square nautical miles that stretch south of Miami, surround the Florida Keys, and extend all the way to the Dry Tortugas. More than 6,000 species of marine life are found in these incredible waters—everything from manatees and dolphins to parrot fish, sea turtles, barracuda, sharks, octopus, several species of crabs and jellyfish, and much, much more. Diving, snorkeling, and fishing are all permitted within the sanctuary, but with strict guidelines to protect the natural environment. If you have a chance to head underwater, or even just out on the water, take it.
By Terry Ward, AFAR Local Expert
Scuba Dive Hens and Chickens
This beautiful patchy reef has huge pinnacles with lots of tall soft corals and purple sea fans. Swimming among them gives the feeling of walking around on Pandora from the film Avatar—otherworldly. This shallow reef has tons of fish diversity, including porkfish, blue chromis, surgeonfish, damselfish, snook, moray eels, and more. During our visit a friendly loggerhead sea turtle casually munched on invertebrates despite our group of seven divers surrounding it. This relaxing, uncrowded dive site is highly recommended.
By Tiffany Doan