ABOUT KEY WEST’S LIVING CORAL REEF
Our coral reefs, which lie about 7 miles offshore, are teeming with tropical fish, hard and soft corals, sponges, snails, jellyfish, anemones, crabs, lobsters, rays, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and other sea life. There are around 110 species of corals and over 500 species of tropical fish in our coral reef community. All species are interrelated and live in harmony.
Coral reefs are built by millions of tiny polyps, that are actually live animals. They secrete a skeleton of calcium carbonate called limestone. Within each coral polyp lives a microscopic algae called zooanthellae that conducts photosynthesis. These two (the polyp and the algae) have a symbiotic relationship, in which two different organisms live together and benefit from each other.
Tips When Snorkeling Key West’s Colorful Reef
The Florida Keys’ reefs are the only living coral reefs in the continental United States. Each year, over 2 million tourists visit our reefs through snorkeling, diving, fishing or boating. The reefs are extremely important to us locals and we are committed to doing our part in protecting them. One way is to educate you, the snorkeler, about our fragile coral reef community.
Even though coral looks sturdy, they are very fragile and even the slightest touch can damage and kill the sensitive coral polyps. So when you stand, kick or touch the coral reef, you may be destroying hundreds or even thousands of years of growth – as coral may grow only 1/8″ a year!
This is why we stress that snorkelers please be aware of where their fins are in the water at all times. Be sure to snorkel in water deep enough so that when you get vertical, to adjust your mask or chat with your buddy, your fins won’t kick the coral and mistakenly kill it. Float, relax, and enjoy the spectacular underwater show AND ALWAYS REMEMBER: PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ANY CORAL.
Make plans to go snorkeling in Key West.