FLORIDA KEYS -- Few marine environments in America compare to the Florida Keys in terms of natural beauty and natural resources. The most extensive living coral reef in the United States is adjacent to island chain of the Florida Keys.
These coral reefs are intimately linked to a marine ecosystem that supports one of the most unique and diverse assemblages of plants and animals in North America. The 2,800-square-nautical-mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary surrounds the entire archipelago of the Florida Keys and includes the productive waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Cultural resources are also contained within the sanctuary. The proximity of coral reefs to centuries old shipping routes has resulted in a high concentration of shipwrecks and an abundance of artifacts.
More than any other U.S. destination, the Keys mean warm, clear seas ideal for new and certified divers, and personalized dive trips virtually every day of the year.
Equally important is the fact that the Keys are drive-to islands, maximizing travel values and time spent underwater exploring.
The Keys' shallow coral barrier reef offers easy conditions, light currents and great underwater visibility with two immediate benefits: longer bottom times, and vibrant colors as more natural sunlight reaches shallow depths.
For every level of sport diver, the Keys offer a variety of dive sites from coral reefs to historic shipwrecks with some of the world's most diverse species of fish, and a "wreck trek" spotlighting centuriesold ships, now coral-encrusted artificial reefs.
Notably, the 524-foot Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a former United States Air Force missile tracking ship soon destined to be sunk about six miles south of Key West, in 140 feet of water in the Sanctuary.
Currently the 210-foot Adolphus Busch is the largest wreck in the Lower Keys, near world-famous Looe Key reef, the site of the annual Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, scheduled this year for Sat., July 11.
Off Marathon lies one of the Keys' top ten dives. Upright in 115 feet of water, the Thunderbolt measures 188 feet long, and sports a thick coating of colorful sponges, corals and hydroids, even a 500-pound Goliath grouper guarding the bow.
The Eagle was the first ship sunk in the Keys specifically as an artificial reef, a prototype for diving a modern-era, mostly intact wreck. She's a living marine aquarium without the walls. Islamorada dive shops, from Tavernier Creek to Lower Matecumbe Key, regularly visit the Eagle.
The Spiegel Grove, to-date the Keys' largest vessel intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef, is positioned in 130 feet of water about six miles off Key Largo. Home to more than 160 different aquatic species, the Spiegel Grove is arguably the most popular wreck in the Florida Keys.
An abundance of dive values are available now through April 15, featuring savings on dive trips, stay-and-dive packages, even a History of Diving Museum. For details, visit www.fla-keys.com/valucation.
The Florida Keys has something to offer every diver, regardless of experience. To plan a dive vacation, visit www.fla-keys.com/diving or call 1-800-FLA-KEYS.