Miami Snorkeling

By: Shayne Benowitz

Here's what you need to know about snorkeling in Miami.

Miami is famous for its miles of pristine, sandy beaches where people flock from around the world to spend a day lounging on the seashore. But just offshore, underneath the aqua-blue and always clear Atlantic Ocean, is the third-largest barrier reef in the world - the only one in North America. 

The Florida Straights reef spans 220 miles in all from Miami along the Florida Keys and west past Key West to the Dry Tortugas. The important and unique ecosystem that surrounds the reef is protected by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s National Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary Program.

Snorkeling is an easy, affordable, and fun way to discover the wonders of the coral reef, mangrove islands, and abundant marine life. The only skill you need is to be a confident swimmer. So grab your fins, mask and snorkel and get ready to see a whole new world just below the surface in Miami.

Gear, Getting Started & Safety Tips for South Beach Snorkeling

Any would-be snorkeler needs gear: a snorkel, mask, and fins, and perhaps a buoyancy compensator vest for safety and flotation. If you’re looking to buy equipment while you’re in town, 

Austin’s Dive Center in South Miami carries everything you’ll need for a recreational snorkeling session. Equipment can run anywhere from about $80 to $150.

If you’re not ready to make that kind of investment and maybe just want to test the waters, so to speak, then renting gear is a great option.

South Beach Diver’s offers rentals in addition to their retail sales. Twelve dollars gets you a snorkel, mask, and fins for the day.

Take the time to get accustomed to your gear. Make sure your mask has a good seal around your eyes and nose to prevent water from seeping in. Take one breath in through your nose to establish a seal, and position the strap around the crown of your head. The strap doesn’t need to be tight to keep the mask in place. While snorkeling, you’ll be breathing exclusively through your mouth. Bite down on the snorkel’s bite tabs and make certain your lips are sealed tightly. 

Remember, the snorkel will only work if one end is out of the water. If you plan to dive down, hold your breath! Your legs are your propellers and your fins work best while kicking your legs in slow, steady motions underneath the water. It’s easy to get lost in the underwater world unfolding before your eyes. Make sure you stop every so often and peek your head above the water to check your surroundings.

If you’d like to do a little snorkeling during your day at the beach, take your gear towards South Pointe Park and Government Cut. Approximately 200 yards southeast of the 2nd Street lifeguard stand is the Jose Cuervo Reef. On Cinco de Mayo in 2000, a 10,000-pound concrete Jose Cuervo bar was sunk to create an artificial reef, and to promote near-shore snorkeling and diving. The reef, only 10-15 feet deep, is an ideal snorkeling destination and is accessible by swimming from the beach. An abundance of marine life can also be found alongside the nearby jetty.

Boating Excursions

In addition to rental and sales equipment, South Beach Diver’s also coordinates a full day excursion to explore the coral reef inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo. Shuttle service to the park is provided from the shop on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays departing at 10am and returning at 7pm. Once at John Pennekamp, you’ll cruise offshore and visit two spots along the reef for snorkeling. The all-inclusive trip is $75 per person.

Back in Miami, Tarpoon Lagoon Diving Center located in the Miami Beach Marina offers snorkeling, as well as scuba diving excursions. Aboard their 46-foot custom-built Newton dive boat, you’ll share the vessel with divers at shallow reefs ideal for snorkeling. These spots include Emerald Reef, Rainbow Reef, and the Half Moon Underwater Archaeological Preserve between Virginia Key and Key Biscayne. The Half Moon was a 360-ton steel schooner that sunk offshore creating a unique opportunity for wreck snorkeling. These four-hour two-stop shallow reef trips depart Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and cost $60 per person.

Snorkeling & Kayaking in Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is a must-explore for anyone interested in South Florida’s unique coastline and ecosystem. Here, you’ll find opportunities for offshore snorkeling at the outer reefs, such as Half Moon and Emerald Reef, as well as snorkeling along the mangrove coastline. These excursions range from $40 to $45 per person.

Eco Adventures, part of the Miami-Dade Parks program, also offers a combination sea kayak and snorkel adventure at Key Biscayne in Crandon Park. You’ll kayak along the mangroves with a naturalist guide and snorkel through the shallow waters of Bear Cut Preserve. The three and a half hour excursion is $70 per person.

Remember that weather and sea conditions will play a factor in your snorkel excursion. Summer offers consistently ideal conditions and particularly warm water but snorkeling in Miami is available year round.

What You'll See

Whether you’re snorkeling a natural or artificial reef, at the beach or along the mangroves, you’ll discover amazing underwater creatures. Look at (but don’t touch) the vibrant yellow and red coral canyons and purple sea fans swaying in the ocean’s current. Coral is a live animal and it’s extremely delicate. Touching coral is detrimental to its health and can also be dangerous. It’s related to the jellyfish and can provide a sharp sting, burn, or cut when touched. A good rule of thumb is to stay in water that’s at least six feet deep while snorkeling over coral.

Look for tropical fish including yellowtail snapper, parrotfish, angelfish, blue tang, grouper, and hogfish. Other creatures include spiny lobsters, stingrays, sea turtles, and even nurse sharks. Anytime you’re near the water in Miami, keep your eyes peeled for marine mammals like manatees or pods of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. With such a thriving and diverse ecosystem, there’s nearly as much to discover underwater in Miami as there is on land!

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