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More About the Reef & Key West Snorkeling…

Reefs are fragile, specialized ecosystems with only 0.5% of the ocean providing suitable habitat for reefs. The Keys are lucky indeed to be home to the Florida Keys Reef, stretching for 220 miles along the south-east coast of Florida. It runs from Key Biscayne off of Miami, down to the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of Key West. This makes the Florida Keys Reef the world’s 3rd largest coral barrier reef after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Belize’s Meso-American Reef. Roughly 2/3rds of the Florida Keys Reef is located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds comprise the complex, interdependent ecosystem of the living reef.

Snorkeling the Key West Reef

Corals are not plants – they are living animals, a community of organisms, or polyps, that together create a reef. Reefs in the Keys are comprised of many varieties of corals – more than 45 species of stony (hard) corals and 37 species of octocorals (sea fans and soft corals). Hard corals, such as brain and star corals are the major architects of the Florida Keys reef. Most hard corals in the Keys grow at only 1/4 – 1/2 inch a year. Branching corals, such as Staghorn, grow faster, up to 1 1/2 inches a year but are more brittle and are easily damaged by storms, boat anchors and careless people. A snorkeler can kill a coral just by touching it.  Even a fin brushing the coral can badly damage the organism. This is the reason for the “No Touch No Take” zones in the reef preserve.

The living reef provides specialized habitats that provide shelter, food and breeding sites for many plants and animals – nearly 1,400 species. In just fish, there are almost 500 species that make use of the reefs. Among the many varieties are parrotfish, multi-colored wrasses, grouper, grunt, butterfly fish, angelfish, hogfish, porcupinefish, trumpetfish, and snapper. Turtles, rays, lobsters, and dolphins also make use of the living reef.

Water on the land side of the coral barrier reef is protected from the rougher water on the ocean side.  This provides snorkelers with calmer waters in which to enjoy the beauty of the reef. Sebago knows that water conditions vary with the weather and our experienced captains always look for the best spots for your snorkel tour. Water temperatures are ideal for snorkelers and average in the 70's during the winter and in the 80's during the summer. Many of the reefs Sebago’s snorkel tours visit are located in shallow water, only 5′ – 20’ deep, with much to see floating on the surface. Or if you prefer, swim down for a closer look at the beauty surrounding you.

Your experience of the living reef is sure to be the highlight of your Key West vacation. Sebago offers a variety of ways to experience it. We have a morning and afternoon snorkel tour. Or pair snorkeling the reef with a sunset cruise or kayak tour of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge on our Island 'Ting Eco Tour. That's just to name a few. Browse our tours, we are sure one fits perfectly with your schedule and interests.