Best Sandbars of the Florida Keys: A Comprehensive Guide

Key West, Florida has 29 unique and interesting sandbars that can be found off the coast of this southernmost city in the United States. The sea floor around Key West consists of multiple ridges and banks which allow for a diverse collection of natural and man-made bars to occur. Since Key West is surrounded by water on all sides, these formations exist as either extensions of land or serve as obstacles between the island and surrounding bodies of water. These bars also affect weather conditions, currents, and wave size within their vicinity. There are various classifications for these bars that range from very similar to one another to completely different depending on location and features. Most popularly used classification terms include: keys, shoals, rips, patches, banks, ridges, walls, and wharves.

No matter what they are called or where they are located, these bars all have one thing in common: water movement. Most of these formations serve as a resting spot for ocean life such as coral reefs and sea grass beds as well as provide an ideal habitat for various marine life to thrive including many types of fish. Some bars will actually attract large amounts of wildlife due to the abundance of food that is available there. This could be due to runoff from other bodies or currents which bring in nutrients and small organisms like plankton and algae which feed larger predators and their prey. None the less, it is important we understand each bar’s characteristics because their can either directly cause harm to the ecosystem or benefit it.

This article will discuss the different types of bars in Key West and how they influence their surrounding environment.

One type of bar found in Key West is referred to as a key. These extensions are typically formed by deposition of materials such as sand, shells, or coral during storms which can lead to significant buildup over time. The most notable example of this is Old Rhodes Key which was once an actual island but now exists as an extension off of Sunset Key that serves as a resting spot for both locals and tourists due to its shallow depth (less than 15 feet deep at high tide). If you visit Old Rhodes Key between November and May, you may even be lucky enough to see migrating loggerhead sea turtles resting there due to its availability for food and protection from weather conditions.

Another popular formation is the shoal which results from erosion of materials such as coral or shells on the sea floor. These are typically found in deeper water which make them more difficult to be seen by boats but still create interesting formations. Notable examples of this include West Sand Shoal at Mallory Square, White Banks about halfway down the ship channel, and Patch Reef near Key West Bight. The fourth type of bar in Key West is referred to as a rip. This name is used because these forms are perpendicular to current flow typically caused by tidal currents that may or not be present year round. Currents can worsen during storms that occur in the winter months meaning they are more deadly. Notable examples of rips in Key West includes the Blunts Reef Rip located between Fort Jefferson and Elliott Key, the Marker 32 rip near North Roosevelt Boulevard, and the Marteles Patch located west of Sugarloaf Island.

The next type of bar is called a patch which is also formed by erosion but they are typically found in sand or shells rather than coral. The depth of these formations is usually less than 20 feet deep with widths ranging from about 100 to 300 feet. Notable examples include South White Patch off Fleming Key, Grecian Rocks at the end of Thomas Drive, and Cheeca Rocks located northwest of Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Next is example of a bank which can be found along the flats of Key West. They are typically made of coral or shells and range in size from 200-500 feet both length wise and width. Notable examples include Bush Key south of Big Coppitt Key, South Boca Grande on the west side of Sugarloaf Island, and Spanish Harbor Keys located near Lower Sugarloaf Sound.

Banks can also be formed by currents or waves which then deposit materials that form large mounds over time. Notable examples include Bartlett Reef off Grassy Key at approximately 9 miles away, The Ledge just west of Sugarloaf Island, and Ballast Bank located about halfway down the ship channel between Fort Jefferson and Little Duck Key. Continuing with the topic is ridge formations which typically start as a patch and then get larger over time. These locations are typically several miles wide and can go on for hundreds of miles. Notable examples include Green Key Bank located west of Marquesas Keys, the Molasses Reef northeast of Sugarloaf Island, and Trench Shoal near the Dry Tortugas. Lastly is a type known as a shoals which occurs when wave and/or tidal action move sand to different locations. These formations may be long or short with widths ranging from 100 feet to 300 feet depending on how far offshore they run. Some famous shoals in Key West include Carysfort Reef south of Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, French Reef near Rebecca Shoal Light House, and Fowey Rocks just northwest of Fort Jefferson.

Key West is a city in the Florida Keys located on a sandbar known as Stock Island which only exists because the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed a manmade connection to what was previously an actual island but now exists as an extension off of Sunset Key that serves as a resting spot for both locals and tourists due to its shallow depth (less than 15 feet deep at high tide). If you visit Old Rhodes Key between November and May, you may even be lucky enough to see migrating loggerhead sea turtles resting there due to its availability for food and protection from weather conditions. Another popular formation is the shoal which results from erosion of materials such as coral or shells on the sea floor. These are typically found closer to shore and provide a safe place for boats to moor due to the shallowness of their surrounding waters. One example is located near Little Duck Key known as Spanish Harbor Keys which also happens to be a popular scuba diving location due its variety of fish species, sponges, and tropical coral formations.

Patch Reefs can be found not too far from nearby Snipe Point off of the southern tip of Fleming Key which are typically defined by a shallow depth of less than 20 feet meaning they can only be seen during low tide when their size becomes more visible. Additionally, rips such as Blunts Reef Rip between Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary and Elliott Key or Marker 32 just west of North Roosevelt Boulevard offer a great place to fish for spiny lobster due to the abundant creatures living in their surrounding waters.

Grassy Key is home of Hollands Deep which is located about three miles southwest of the island at the westernmost tip of Florida Bay. Diving enthusiasts are able to find many types of marine life, tropical coral formations, and an old shipwreck there due to its shallow depth averaging only six feet deep with a maximum depth of just over 12 feet deep. However, another popular spot worth mentioning that isn’t far away would be Bush Key found south near Big Coppitt Key which offers limited protection from wind and waves but can provide productive fishing opportunities since it has extensive hardbottom areas covered by sponges and corals for anglers.

Last but not least are banks which are often steep-to areas that have both an extensive reef structure and shallow depths at low tide. This allows for a variety of marine life to live within their confines including barracuda, spiny lobster, groupers, snappers, queen conchs, and even nurse sharks in some spots. Notable examples include East Patch near the Dry Tortugas and Bird Key located north of Big Pine Key.

Take a tour with us at Florida Keys Sandbar Adventures and see why everyone is saying we are the Best Sandbar Tours in Key West!

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