The History of Snorkeling in Key West

Key West snorkeling tours offer incredible opportunities to explore the undersea world of southern Florida’s captivating coast. One of the best snorkeling destinations in the world, the Florida Keys are home to numerous shallow reefs alive with sponges, corals, sea fans and exotic marine life. With its submarine caves, romantic shipwrecks and pirate legends, this former haunt of Ernest Hemingway is an undersea adventurer’s paradise, and snorkeling enthusiasts have flocked to the Conch Republic for decades to enjoy relaxed holidays both in and out of the crystalline azure seas.

History of Snorkeling

The history of snorkeling began in ancient times when sponge fishermen used hollow tubes to breathe while hunting for sponges. Man’s efforts to breathe underwater for military purposes, exploration and eventually recreation stretched through the centuries, with important contributions by creative minds from Aristotle to Alexander the Great and Jacques Cousteau. From crude hollow tubes and primitive masks to today’s high-tech equipment, the amazing advances in snorkeling gear have made the wonderful undersea world easily accessible to anyone with a mask, goggles, fins and a sense of adventure. Key West, with its colorful past and even more colorful marine life, offers a wealth of historic snorkeling sites from 18th century shipwrecks to Civil War forts and man-made reefs.

Historic Wrecks

Key West’s colorful history lends plenty of intrigue to the underwater relics sought by snorkelers and divers, and shipwrecks dating back to the days of the buccaneers provide hours of snorkeling intrigue. Explore lovely reefs like Kedge Ledge, where you’ll see coral-encrusted anchors standing as testimony to wrecked 18th century galleons. The wreck of the Antocha was discovered in the waters off Key West by treasure hunter Mel Fisher. Intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in 1985, the Cayman Salvor is a massive steel-hulled buoy tender, its open holds now home to baitfish and green moray eels.

19th Century Forts

One of the most popular Key West snorkeling tours, an expedition to the Dry Tortugas National Park offers a step back in time to the days of the Civil and Spanish-American wars. Filled with legends of pirates and sunken gold, Garden Key’s Fort Jefferson is America’s largest coastal fort, a spectacular brick edifice stretching out over crystal-clear waters ideal for snorkeling.

Another favorite snorkeling spot, Civil War Fort Zachary Taylor, has clear water, a shaded picnic area and a beach perfect for uncrowded sunset viewing. After you get out of the water, take a free guided tour of the beautiful brick fort and its enormous collection of Civil War armaments. Located right off the beach, relatively shallow snorkeling areas are home to sea life ranging from bait fish to huge tarpon and groupers.

First Undersea Park

Key West made snorkeling history when it opened John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, first undersea park in the United States. A favorite among Key West snorkelers, the park offers an amazing diversity of coral formations, including star coral, brain coral, sea fans and sea fingers. A treasure trove of marine life includes angelfish, sea turtles, parrot fish and butterfly fish.