Key Largo, a favorite destination for diving and snorkeling, is the northernmost island of the Florida Keys. From the waters of the Everglades National Park to the only coral formations in America, Key Largo has garnered a reputation as one of the foremost dive sites and places for eco-tours in the islands.
In 2002, the sinking of the USS Spiegel Grove created a new and fascinating place to dive. Located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the 510-foot long, 84-foot-wide US Navy ship is the backbone of a new ecosystem six miles offshore. The sanctuary protects 2,800 square nautical miles of the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, and the Florida Bay.
Diving, swimming, boating, and snorkeling are permitted at several locations throughout the preserve. On land, visitors can explore one of the interesting local attractions, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center.
Before it was a shipwreck and a dive site, the Spiegel Grove, named for the Ohio home of President Rutherford B. Hayes, served the Navy and the Cold War mostly in the Caribbean. After it was decommissioned, the USS Spiegel Grove remained in the so-called mothball fleet in Virginia. It was relocated to Key Largo and sank unexpectedly, taking only six hours to reach the bottom.
Almost immediately, the Spiegel Grove in Key Largo attracted the attention of divers, who dipped below the surface to see a rainbow of fish and other marine life. Over time, coral and sponges will take over the hull, creating a reef of amazing proportions. The Spiegel Grove in Key Largo was lying on its starboard side, until Hurricane Dennis blew through in 2005 and the currents and waves raised the ship upright. Because of the location and the depth, the USS Spiegel Grove is a site for skilled divers. The highest point of the ship is 60 to 65 feet under the surface, which varies according to the tide.
Local outfitter Ocean Divers, based in Key Largo, has developed a training course for advanced dives to the Spiegel Grove. After two days of training and personal instruction, participants will receive Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certification. In addition to training, Ocean Divers also leads snorkeling and dive trips to the Spiegel Grove in Key Largo. Other dive trips under the waters of Key Largo are suitable for people of all skill levels.
The company has two locations in Key Largo; the Overseas Highway outpost is home to an extensive store as well as one of the island's museums. Chronicling 45 years of history, the SCUBAPRO Regulator Museum features an interesting collection of equipment designed to keep divers safe and breathing freely.
An array of other outfitters lead dive trips to the Spiegel Grove and other sites below the surface. The Statue of Christ of the Abyss, a bronze statue close to the water's surface, can be seen by snorkelers, and other shipwrecks and reefs are suitable for diving, including the Molasses Reef, Benwood Wreck, and the Elbow. The Bibb and Duane, two US Coast Guard cutters that sank years before the Spiegel Grove, have become a vibrant coral reef.