Snorkeling Sea Gardens was a joy, and we did it by private charter boat. It was just the two of us on the boat besides the captain and first mate which was a great experience.
Private charters are a nice way to go because you can visit snorkel spots that are not commonly visited by the big boat tour companies out of Pennekamp and Key Largo. You will often see healthier reefs this way and most certainly have privacy. These trips are well worth the added expense. If you are not up for a private charter, there are some boats in Key Largo that only take six passengers at a time and they will likely go to smaller reefs like this too.
Our charter took us to a wonderful shallow patch reef between Key Largo and Molasses Reef. We don't know if "Sea Gardens" is a made up name, because we could not find it on any charts. We believe it was actually the Mosquito Bank area, but are not sure. The captain likes to keep some of his destinations a little secret to keep folks from overcrowding and damaging the areas.
But we know one thing for sure. Snorkeling Sea Gardens was incredible. This shallow patch reef off of Key Largo, Florida was a very healthy reef of hard and soft corals. The sea rods and other soft corals were huge, towering from the sea floor almost all the way to the surface. They were bigger than we have ever seen.
There was also a huge variety of healthy, colorful sponges including Branching Vase Sponge and Black-Ball Sponge. We saw Finger Coral, Lobed Star Coral, Fire Coral, fans and massive sea rods.
Snorkeling Sea Gardens was perfect for depth and was a fairly big area. But the soft corals and sea fans were so tall that you had to be very careful not to touch them when snorkeling over them. If the bigger snorkel boat companies ever start taking groups here it would quickly be ruined because it is so shallow. It had been windy and rainy for days, so the visibility was not great (hence the lack of great pictures), but it was still very worth seeing.
There were not as many fish at this location as some other places, but a decent amount. Mostly they were medium sized to smaller fish. We saw small parrotfish, Hogfish, French Angelfish, Grey Angelfish, Atlantic Spadefish, Blue Tangs, small jacks, big barracuda, Chubs, grunts galore, snapper, Yellow Tail Snapper, Bicolor Damselfish, Sergeant Majors, Blueheads, Big Trumpetfish, and Pufferfish. There were also some huge Sea Cucumbers.
Caribbean Fish, Creatures & Corals ID Books