People tend to be aware of John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, and some may believe that it is the only place where one can go snorkeling on a coral reef in Florida. However, this is not the case. There are many other reefs located throughout the state that provide excellent opportunities for snorkeling and swimming.
Biscayne National Park is a great place to go snorkeling, and it’s only 20 miles south of Miami in Homestead. Daily snorkeling trips are available, and some even feature the opportunity to swim around a shipwreck.
Biscayne National Park is located in the northernmost section of the Florida Keys. The small islands in the park were formed by ancient coral reefs. The reef stretches for 28 miles, making it the third-largest coral reef system in the world. Visitors to the park can enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving amongst the colorful corals and abundant marine life.
Biscayne National Park is home to a variety of tours in and on the water, from trips to nearby islands to stand-up paddleboard outings and snorkeling within the park. Visitors can explore the area’s diverse marine life, including turtles, dolphins, manatees, and over 500 species of fish. Kayaking and canoeing are also popular activities.
This trip is offered twice a day, lasting for 3.5 hours each time. The cost is $99 per person, and you have the option to rent snorkeling gear for an additional $10 if you don’t have your own. These are small group trips with no more than 12 participants, so you’ll get a more intimate experience.
Although there’s no guarantee you’ll visit a shipwreck on each trip – as it depends on weather and sea conditions – the Mandalay is one of the most frequent destinations. Visitors went snorkeling around the shipwreck on the tour, and it has a great story.
Snorkel Biscayne National Park: The Story of the Mandalay Shipwreck
The Mandalay was a 1928 schooner that sank on Jan. 1, 1966, on Long Reef. The remains of the ship are scattered across the reef, with some parts submerged in up to 12 feet of water. The clear water and abundance of sea life make the wreck a popular spot for diving and snorkeling. Schools of colorful fish swim among the gaudy purple sea fans, and the reef is home to all sorts of plant and animal life.
The journey to the dive site took approximately one hour by boat. Turkey Point Nuclear plant looms to the south and Mount Trashmore to the north, as you leave the park’s headquarters at Convoy Point. The scenery quickly changes as you enter Biscayne Bay, with its vibrant blue waters and diverse marine life. The dump you are looking at was once home to large parts of Homestead and Florida City until Hurricane Andrew came through in 1992. Now, all that is left are the ruins that lay before you. In the distance though, you can still see the skyline of Miami, a reminder of what once was.
The mangrove-lined shore stretches for miles, making it the longest sustained mangrove shoreline on the east coast of the United States. The mangroves provide critical habitat for a variety of plants and animals, as well as protection against storm surges and erosion.
The trip to the reef takes you across Biscayne Bay National Park. The dolphins and rays may be seen swimming in the sea grass and sponges as you look into the water. The uninhabited islands of the National Park are known as Boca Chita, Elliot, and Adams keys. These are the keys in the Florida Keys that were saved from being developed in the 1970s. Development is often rampant in Florida, so it’s a testament to the state’s dedication to preservation that these Keys were able to remain untouched. Visitors to the area can enjoy the natural beauty of the islands without worrying about overcrowding or commercialization. Although these islands were never developed, they are still shown as Islandia on maps. This is due to the fact that they were incorporated at some point.
Besides the keys are the Atlantic Ocean and the line of reefs that have been responsible for shipwrecks for centuries. The Mandalay is just one of the 44 shipwrecks that have been identified in Biscayne National Park. Out of those, six wrecks have been designated as part of a Maritime Heritage Trail. You can learn more about these wrecks with mooring posts and laminated maps at the Trail.
Even beginner snorkellers can go to the waters of the Mandalay. There is a variety of fish in the wreck, as well as a variety of reef fish, from trumpetfish to smooth trunkfish. The clear waters and abundance of sea life make the Mandalay a great spot for snorkeling.
The story of the Mandalay is one of those colorful tales of the sea. The steel-hulled schooner is 110 feet long and was built in 1928. It cost $177,000 to build. The ship was originally used to transport cargo between New York and Cuba. However, it was later converted into a luxury yacht and sailed around the world several times. The Mandalay has also been featured in several films and television shows over the years. It went through various owners until purchasing by Windjammer Cruises, Inc. in 1965. The cruise company refitted and renamed the ship Mandalay, outfitting it with luxurious materials like mahogany, brass, and ivory. They also added a teak deck, making it one of the most beautiful and comfortable cruise ships at sea.
The New Year’s Eve of 1965 saw the Mandalay headed towards Miami with 23 vacationers and 12 crew on board, returning from a 10-day Bahaman cruise. The captain, a 26-year-old Norwegian, went to sleep at about 1 a.m., leaving a novice seaman in charge. Unfortunately, the inexperienced seaman lost control of the ship in the early morning hours and it ran aground on a reef off the coast of Florida. The Mandalay ran aground in the early hours of New Years’ day 1966 on Long Reef. The ship had hit a sandbar and was unable to move. The captain admitted that he had miscalculated the ship’s position and the location was actually 20 miles off course.
When the Mandalay ship was met with misfortune, those on board were rescued by helicopter. However, the ship itself was left unprotected and scavengers took everything of value from it – including the passenger cameras, watches, jewelry, and purses. purses. The ship met a far worse fate than those who were merely passengers on it. The lead blocks weren’t allowed to escape the notice of the thieves. The blocks were melted into lead diving weights and taken by small outboard motorboats. The thieves then sold the weights for $1 per pound.
Later, tugboats failed to pull the Mandalay off Long Reef, and 50 years late, Mandalay now serves as an interesting Snorkeling spot, with many fish swimming and picnicking around and through the ship. Visitors can get an up-close look at the dozens of species of fish that have made the Mandalay their home.
Visit and Snorkel at Biscayne National Park
A kayak and canoe launch area gives visitors a chance to explore the mangrove coastline. The rental operation also makes it possible for people to enjoy this experience even if they don’t own their own kayak or canoe. But, except for the most advanced and adventurous kayakers, the islands are too far to reach by paddle. A ranger estimated that it would take six hours of paddling over open water to reach the closest island.
If you’re looking to camp at Boca Chita or Elliott Keys, you’ll need a boat to get there unless you make other arrangements. Tent camping costs $15 per night, while boat camping (which includes dock space and use of a campsite) is $20 per night.
At Convoy Point, you can enjoy a picnic at one of the beautifully situated tables with shade and a view of Biscayne Bay. The quarter-mile boardwalk is the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll and take in scenic views. The visitor center offers exhibits and a movie about the park.
The park is free to enter. It is easily accessible due to its location east of the speedway a.k.a. the Homestead-Miami speedway.