Miami's Best Scuba Diving

Diving Turtle

Diving with the Sea Turtles

Courtesy of Mat Ratner
Diving Lobster

Florida Lobster

Courtesy of Mat Ratner
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By: Shayne Benowitz

You may not realize it, but Miami Beach is actually a barrier island composed of limestone coral rock. Miami is a gateway to the uppermost stretch of the Florida Straits – the third largest barrier reef in the world, which extends south along The Florida Keys. The destination is home to abundant coral shelves, patch reefs and wreck dives ripe for underwater exploration by scuba divers and snorkelers. Read on for a sampling of dive sites for all levels. And if snorkeling (which does not require special certification or training) is more your thing, the shallow novice dives sites are perfect for you.

Maritime Heritage Trail at Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is notable for the fact that 95% of the park is underwater. This expanse of Biscayne Bay is found off the shores of South Dade and is bound by the uppermost islands of the Florida Keys before you reach Key Largo. Here, you’ll find the Maritime Heritage Trail, a treasure trove of underwater marvels, from shipwrecks spanning a century to natural reefs and a lighthouse. With both shallow and deep water dives, there’s something here for divers and snorkelers of all abilities.

Emerald Reef

Composed of three shallow patch reefs located one mile east of Key Biscayne, Emerald Reef is considered one of Miami’s most beautiful coral reefs. With an average depth of about 20 feet, it’s also an ideal spot for snorkeling. Expect to spy elkhorn and pillar coral, a variety of sponges, and schools of juvenile tropical fish like sergeant major, blue tang and other damselfish.

Jose Cuervo Artificial Reef

For an artificial reef you can access by simply swimming offshore in South Beach, head to the Second Street lifeguard stand and wade out about 150 yards with your fins, mask and snorkel in tow. There, you’ll find a surprising underwater sight: an enormous concrete bar-turned-artificial-reef. Intentionally sunk by Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources 20 years ago on Cinco de Mayo, the structure is known as Jose Cuervo artificial reef. The concrete bar morphed into habitat for a variety of tropical fish, like yellowtail snapper, parrotfish and even spiny lobster.

Half Moon Shipwreck

The wreck site at Half Moon Shipwreck is in water as shallow as 10 feet. Located just offshore between Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, Half Moon Preserve is accessible to snorkelers as well as divers. Named for the 154-foot German sailing yacht captured by England during World War I, the Half Moon eventually made its way to Miami waters and ran aground in 1930, transforming the wreckage into an underwater archaeological preserve. Covered in soft coral, an abundance of tropical fish have made their home here in the shallow, calm waters.

Neptune Memorial Reef

Situated three miles due east of Key Biscayne, Neptune Memorial Reef was built in the image of the lost city of Atlantis. Spanning hundreds of thousands of square feet, it’s one of the largest man made artificial reefs ever created. With a depth of about 40-feet, it’s best explored with scuba gear where you can swim amidst concrete statues and drift around columns, domes and arches. It was designed specifically as a destination for the dearly departed, where cremated remains can be spread amidst the concrete structures in memorial..


One of the most impressive wreck dives in Miami, the Sheri-Lynn is a great for advanced open water dives. The wreck is a 235-foot Dutch freighter ship built in 1952 whose remains are now scattered along the ocean floor 90 feet below the sea. With multiple bulkheads and tanks within the wreckage to explore, the ship has transformed into a thriving artificial reef where large pelagic fish, like grouper, mahi-mahi and sharks abound off the shores of Key Biscayne. The wreck has been scattered over the years from weather activity and is located about five miles east of Key Biscayne.

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, you’ll find dive boats, shops and certification courses offered by a number of operators. In South Beach, head to Tarpoon Lagoon Dive Center or South Beach Divers. In Coconut Grove, check out Grove Scuba and in Key Biscayne, there’s Diver’s Paradise, among others.

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