Snorkeling In Miami

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By: Shayne Benowitz

What You Need to Know About Snorkeling in Greater Miami & Miami Beach

Miami is famous for its miles of sandy beaches, where people from around the globe come in search of seaside bliss. But just offshore, underneath the aqua-blue Atlantic Ocean, is the third-largest barrier reef in the world – and the only one in North America.

Snorkeler taking a look
Grab a snorkel & discover an underwater world

The Florida Reef Tract spans 220 miles in all, stretching 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 reef and mangrove islands. 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 in the waters just off Greater Miami & Miami Beach.

Lobster peeking out from under a rock
Look for spiny lobsters, tropical fish & nurse sharks. Photo by Mat Ratner.

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 on U.S. 1 in Pinecrest 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 Dive and Surf Center offers rentals in addition to retail sales.

Take the time to get familiar with 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.

Swimming while snorkeling to enjoy the view under water
Breathing through a snorkel while exploring the jetty

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 your legs kick 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.

Man swimming down to get a closer look
Take a closer look at the reef & marine life

Coming Soon: The ReefLine Project

With its first phase expected to open in December 2021, the ReefLine is a series of artist-designed artificial reefs that will form an underwater trail off the coast of Miami Beach. A nod both to efforts to protect Greater Miami & Miami Beach’s pristine marine ecosystems and the area’s thriving arts scene, the underwater sculptures are expected to attract abundant marine life. The project’s first phase, Concrete Coral, will depict a series of cars in a traffic jam. The sculptures, made from concrete, will eventually be part of a seven-mile sculpture trail along the shore, all of which you’ll be able to snorkel – and ponder their meanings as you swim along.

Couple of kayakers
Combine sea kayaking with a snorkeling adventure

Snorkeling & Kayaking In Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is a must-explore for anyone interested in Miami'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.

Miami EcoAdventures, part of the Miami-Dade Parks program, also offers a combination sea kayak and snorkel adventure at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne from April through October. You’ll kayak along the mangroves with a naturalist guide and snorkel through the shallow waters of Bear Cut Preserve.

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.

Sea turtle swimming in the ocean
So much to see in Miami's thriving and diverse underwater ecosystem

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.

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 Greater Miami & Miami Beach, keep your eyes peeled for marine mammals such as manatees or pods of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. With such a thriving and diverse ecosystem, there’s as much to explore underwater in Miami as there is on land.

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