Reef Dives: Molasses Reef

Easily accessible, Molasses Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area is the most heavily visited reef in the Upper Keys – perhaps the world – for diving. Molasses is famous for its clear water, many fish, and numerous boulder corals. It is a classic outer reef with a well-defined spur and groove system of coral development.

At the central portion of Molasses, offshore of the light, are a large ship’s winch and historic Spanish anchor.

Molasses Reef is located within the boundaries of the Key Largo Existing Management Area, formerly Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary.

On August 4, 1984, the motor vessel Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter carrying pelletized chicken feed, ran aground on Molasses Reef. The total destruction from the grounding included 5,805 square meters of living corals and injury to 75,000 square meters of reef habitat.

The vessel was removed by the US Coast Guard. NOAA coordinated an effort to restore damage to the reef, by placing reef modules in the injured areas to provide a substrate for new coral colonization.

Biological restoration took place using transplants from Pickles Reef and the facilitation of coral larval settlement.

NOAA settled a claim worth $6.275 million with the responsible parties, the Wellwood Shipping Company (owner of the vessel) and the Hanseatic Shipping Company (shipping management company), in 1986, and all payments to NOAA were completed by 2001.

Molasses Reef is popular scuba diving and snorkeling location with numerous dive sites marked by mooring buoys.

One notable site is at buoy #7 and is variously referred to as the Winch Hole, Windlass Wreck, or The Winch. Further reading at Wikipedia


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