Water Activities  



By: Shayne Benowitz

Get under the sea with this comprehensive guide to diving in Miami.

You may not realize it, but Miami Beach is actually a barrier island composed of ancient limestone coral rock. With the gentle, aquamarine Atlantic Ocean lapping against it, Miami's islands and mainland are surrounded by ideal dive spots.

Part of the uppermost stretches of the Florida Straits—the third largest barrier reef in the world, which extends south along The Florida Keys—Miami is home to abundant coral shelves and patch reefs ripe for exploration.

There are also a number of wreck dives, making Miami’s waters amongst the most dynamic for underwater discovery.

Learn to Dive & Dive Operators

Of course, in order to SCUBA dive, you have to be certified by an organization such as PADI or NAUI. That’s not a problem in Miami as most of the dive boat operators also offer certification courses. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or hope to discover a new pastime while visiting Miami, here are a handful of dive boats, shops and certification courses.

Tarpoon Lagoon Dive Center

Tarpoon Lagoon Dive Center is located at the Miami Beach Marina at the southern tip of South Beach. Their dive boat departs once or twice daily to both shallow reef dives (30 to 35-feet in depth), as well as intermediate and advanced wreck dives (65 to 120 feet in depth).

Check out their online calendar for specifics and to determine which trip is right for you. Tarpoon Lagoon also offers Open Water certification, which is the minimum requirement for SCUBA diving, as well as intermediate, advanced and specialized courses.

South Beach Divers

South Beach Divers, located on Washington Avenue, offers a weekend Open Water certification class, as well as Advanced Open Water and other specialized courses. They also arrange dive trips through a variety of operators in Miami and the surrounding area.

Grove Scuba

Located in Coconut Grove, Grove Scuba offers beginner to advanced PADI certification courses and also arranges dive trips to a variety of reefs and wrecks daily.

Diver’s Paradise

Located within Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, Diver’s Paradise offers a three-day Open Water certification course in addition to advanced options. They also depart on a variety of morning, afternoon and night dives to various reefs and wrecks.

Miami’s Natural & Artificial Reefs & Wreck Dives

There are abundant dive sites throughout Miami’s waters, ranging from natural coral reefs to artificial reefs created by wrecks. Read on for a sampling of dive sites for all levels of divers.

Note: Shallow novice dives are also great for snorkeling, which does not require special certification or training.

Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

Biscayne National Park's Maritime Heritage Trail offers an exciting opportunity to explore the remains of some of the park's many shipwrecks. Six wrecks, spanning nearly a century and a wide variety of sizes and vessel types, have been mapped, brochures have been produced and mooring buoys have been installed. The newest addition to the trail is the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. Snorkeling is great around the base of the light, but the structure itself is not open to the public.

Access to the sites on the trail is by boat only. Erl King, Alicia and Lugano are best suited to SCUBA divers, while the other sites can easily be enjoyed while snorkeling. Mandalay in particular offers an unparalleled opportunity for snorkelers to experience a shipwreck in a beautiful natural setting. https://www.nps.gov/bisc/learn/historyculture/maritime-heritage-trail.htm

Emerald Reef

Avg. Depth: 15 ft. / 5 m
Max. Depth: 25 ft. / 8 m
Skill Level: Novice
Features: coral reef, good snorkeling

Emerald Reef is a small shallow-water patch reef one mile east of Key Biscayne. It's considered by many to be one of the most beautiful reefs in Miami, rivaling those found further south in the Florida Keys.

The reefs are in 10 to 20 feet of water and support living elkhorn and pillar coral, a variety of sponges, and schools of juvenile tropical fish. The clarity and color of the water makes this a spectacular snorkel or dive location. Please protect our reefs and dive carefully. There are no mooring buoys on this reef. Remember to drop anchor only in the sand!

Jose Cuervo

Avg. Depth: 10 ft. / 3 m
Max. Depth: 20 ft. / 6 m
Features: shore diving, artificial reef, good snorkeling

Located in the South Beach Artificial Reef Site, approximately 150 yards southeast of the Second Street lifeguard station on Miami Beach, this 22-ton concrete margarita bar was sunk on May 5th, 2000 during Ocean Realm Splash, nicknamed 'Sinko De Mayo.' Designed with a dive flag roof, six bar stools and a protective wall of tetrahedrons (pyramid-shaped concrete forms), the structure was intended to be the first element of the South Beach Underwater Trail.

According to Brian Flynn, special projects manager of Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management, a mooring buoy will be attached to an anchor near the bar during the first quarter of 2006.

The bar was featured, along with the Atlantis Reef Project, during the first Ocean Realm Conference on Underwater ART (Artificial Reefs and Tourism) planned for May 5th, 2006 at Nikki Beach.

Long Reef

Avg. Depth: 30 ft. / 9 m
Max. Depth: 60 ft. / 18 m
Skill Level: Intermediate
Features: coral reef, wreck site, good snorkeling

Long Reef, so named for the large reef area running south for two miles, has many great diving opportunities. The reef system runs almost parallel to Elliot Key, lying just east of it and south of Triumph Reef. You can find almost all kinds of diving here, from shallow 20 foot dives, to deeper 40 - 60 foot dives.

The Alicia went aground on Long Reef off Elliott's Key on April 21, 1905. At the time she was en route from Liverpool to Havana. Salvagers raised her off the reef, but a strong gale succeeded in blowing her back on, this time smashing a huge hole into her hull. The Alicia had carried a cargo of furniture and trade goods. Although early salvagers did recover a vast amount of her cargo, divers will still find a variety of bottles on the site. The Alicia lies in 20 feet of water.

Neptune Memorial Reef

Avg. Depth: 35 ft. / 11 m
Max. Depth: 45 ft. / 14 m
Skill Level: Novice
Features: artificial reef

The Neptune Memorial Reef Project is a man-made reef off the coast of Miami, Florida (3.25 miles east of Key Biscayne) in the image of The Lost City of Atlantis. Neptune is the largest man-made reef ever built, covering more than 600,000 square feet of ocean floor and using 10,000 cubic yards of cement. The completed site will have a diameter of over 900 feet, making this a multi-tank dive!

The site is being billed as the first underwater theme park in the world. Designed as an artificial reef, with concrete statues, columns, domes and arches, the mythical city of Atlantis is scheduled to be built in the southwest corner of the Key Biscayne Special Management Zone - a little less than 5 miles southeast of Government Cut.

Besides being a great SCUBA diving location, the reef will serve as a memorial for the dearly departed. Cremated remains will be placed in most of the columns, domes, and other structure.


Avg. Depth: 75 ft. / 23 m
Max. Depth: 90 ft. / 27 m
Skill Level: Advanced
Features: artificial reef, wreck site

In 90 feet of water lays Sheri-Lynn, a 235-foot freighter. It took 400 pounds of high-explosives to bring this ship down. Dutch-built, she carried a small crew as she was launched in 1952 and used for shipping. When she had been docked for several years without use, it was assumed the ship was abandoned and ownership was gained by the Department of Environmental Resource Management.

The vessel took a hard hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and pieces were spread across a wide area. Her bow lies 60 feet away from the rest of the wreck. This allowed for increased marine life to inhabit the remains. Although prior to this she was intact and upright, she now has a large variety of sea life. She has many foot holes cut through bulkheads that allow for exploration. South of the bow lies 50 Chevron tanks, each 30 feet long and 8 feet in diameter with the ends cut off. Twenty cement-mixer tanks also lie nearby. The variety of wreckage provides home to large amounts of pelagic life.

DEMA Trader

Avg. Depth: 70 ft. / 21 m
Max. Depth: 80 ft. / 24 m
Skill Level: Intermediate
Features: artificial reef, wreck site

The DEMA Trader (formerly known as the GGD Trader) is a 165-foot-long freighter in 80 feet of water about 3 and 1/2 miles off Key Biscayne.

The ship was seized by U.S. Customs for carrying drugs, and was renamed DEMA Trader after the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association annual convention held on Miami Beach in October, 2003. She was sunk October 28, 2003.

The ship is keel down in the sand with the stern lying in 80 feet of water and the bow in 75 feet of water. Large openings were cut in the sides of the superstructure to allow safe penetration dives into the former galley and cabin areas. Tons of concrete culvert pipes and junction boxes were loaded into the ship’s cargo hold, creating ballast in case of storms, and providing more habitat than just an open cargo hold.

The ship has a large profile making it easy to find with a decent fish finder. Most of the dive can be seen at 60 feet of water. Great dive!

Biscayne Freighter

Avg. Depth: 50 ft. / 15 m
Max. Depth: 60 ft. / 18 m
Skill Level: Intermediate
Features: artificial reef, wreck site

The Biscayne Wreck is located 4.5 miles east of Key Biscayne and was a well-kept fisherman’s secret from 1974 to 1980. This 120-foot ship was often referred to as the “Banana Freighter” because it was used to transport bananas between the Caribbean Islands and from Central America. It was later confiscated for financial reasons and bought by fisherman who desired to sink it for themselves 250-feet down. When it was being towed, strong winds blew this vessel and landed it in only 55 feet of water.

Because of this shallow sinking, this site became a great location for divers. Because of depth and the coral covered hull, this is a great location for night diving. Penetration can be done in the cargo hold where bait fish often reside. The picturesque colors and variety of sea life make this a great site for photography. The stern and starboard sections of the wreck have collapsed. However, the decades of growth leave this site fully inhabited with sea life and a great dive for beginning wreck divers or slightly more advanced divers.

Rio Miami

Avg. Depth: 50 ft. / 15 m
Max. Depth: 80 ft. / 24 m
Skill Level: Intermediate
Features: artificial reef, wreck site

Rio Miami was featured on a 1989 episode of 20/20 where Hugh Downs detonated the ship for sinking and dove the site less than 24 hours later. The remote-controlled detonation with which Downs sunk the ship was the first of this type to be used. The publicity brought some popularity to this location.

Today, this 105-foot tug lies in 72 feet of water after being shifted by Hurricane Andrew. She is upright and her cabin and ladders are intact and rise up to 30 feet from the surface. This is one of the most intact wrecks in the area and is easily penetrated.

Barracudas, angelfish, jewfish, grunts, yellowtails, colorful sponges, sea fans and many forms of hard and soft corals are just some of the beautiful organisms that can be seen on this dive.


Avg. Depth: 110 ft. / 34 m
Max. Depth: 135 ft. / 41 m
Skill Level: Advanced
Features: wreck site, artificial reef

Almirante is a 200-foot steel freighter that was sunk off of Elliot Key in 1974. Although the wreck was originally in immaculate condition with beautiful coral growth, Hurricane Andrew picked her up and dumped her upside down on the bottom in 1992. Since then, sea life has re-inhabited this vessel making it a great site once again.

There are many areas of twisted metal which are great for exploration. Depths reach below 135 feet making this a dive for a more experienced diver. Red gorgonians, jewfish, and many other varieties of pelagic life call this ship home.

Half Moon Preserve

Avg. Depth: 10 ft. / 3 m
Max. Depth: 10 ft. / 3 m
Skill: Novice
Features: marine preserve, wreck site, artificial reef, good snorkeling

The Half Moon was built in Germany in 1908 as the Germania. It was one of the fastest racing yachts of its day and won the German Kaiser’s Cup. The Germania had the misfortune to be in England for a race when World War I was declared. The ship and crew were the first German ship to be captured by England.

Eventually the ship was purchased by Captain Earnest D. Smiley who converted the yacht to a floating saloon permanently moored in Biscayne Bay throughout Prohibition. Captain Smiley’s son, of the same name, grew up on her decks, and went on to become a famous naturalist painter.

The Half Moon broke free of its moorings during a storm and ran hard aground in 1930. Efforts to raise her were futile and the ship sank beneath the water. Eventually the Half Moon was dedicated as Florida’s seventh Underwater Archaeological Preserve.

In 1999, Bruce White (a member of the Marine Archaeological Research & Conservation, Inc.) produced a digital video of the rich sea life at the site. He also highlighted the many deck plank fasteners still visible on her deck beams and the main sheet winches still in place both port and starboard. The video is available for viewing at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center in Crandon Park on Key Biscayne.

The Half Moon is a terrific spot for snorkelers and beginning divers. The shallow waters are usually very calm. The hull is covered with soft corals and sponges. Damsel fish, angel fish and many juvenile reef fishes hide beneath the deck.

The wreck is easy to locate from the Bear Cut channel. Half Moon lies about 75 yards northwest of the red marker #2. The wreck lies within the Biscayne National Park, so divers must remember that collection of artifacts is prohibited. Spear fishing and collection of tropical fish is also prohibited.


Avg. Depth: 75 ft. / 23 m
Max. Depth: 95 ft. / 29 m
Skill: Advanced
Features: wreck site, artificial reef

This ship was used during the widening of the Panama Canal in Central America. The vessel's engines were converted from electric to diesel to be used as a floating mechanic school. However, funding decreased and the boat went unused for 5 years until the State of Florida seized it and absorbed this ship into the artificial reef program. She was placed in 125 feet of water but shifted to 95 feet with the pressure of the anchor pulling her along. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew brought destruction to this vessel, tearing off the pilot house which landed in the sand next to the ship still intact. The pilot house often contains schools of bait fish. Grouper are also a common sight at this location. The Gulf Stream runs near this wreck often bringing strong currents.


Avg. Depth: 15 ft. / 5 m
Max. Depth: 20 ft. / 6 m
Skill: Moderate
Features: wreck site, artificial reef, coral reef, good snorkeling, Marine Preserve

Built in 1883 at a shipyard in Scotland, the Alicia was a 345-foot iron-hulled, three-masted steamer with a 38-foot beam. The vessel had two decks and displaced 2,800 tons.

On April 20, 1905, the Alicia slammed onto the north end of Ajax Reef, just south of Long Reef within what is now Biscayne National Park. The ship was en-route to Havana, Cuba from Liverpool, her cargo hulls filled with fine silks, furniture, and general merchandise. Salvors from the Keys and the Bahamas worked meticulously to recover most of the precious cargo, but the ship itself could not be refloated. The vessel was abandoned July 25th, and then sold for scrap in September that same year. Explosives were used to break up the hull and to recover as much of the iron and machinery as possible.

The hull and superstructure have since collapsed, and the surrounding reef has absorbed much of the vessel. The wreck remains visible and largely in line, consisting of the hull and keel of the ship. The site is an impressive scene, alive with schools of colorful reef fish, sponges, and coral. Lobster and eel are often spotted taking refuge under the hull plates. The shallow depth makes it a great spot for snorkelers and novice divers.

The Alicia is one of five historic wrecks designated as part of the Biscayne National Park "Shipwreck Trail". The shallow waters and surrounding coral reef make this a fantastic snorkeling location. Boaters are advised to use caution as the shallow waters near the reef often create strong surge conditions.

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