Two remaining beacons at Turtle Reef tower above a diver in 12 feet of water. (Click image for credit and larger view.)
Partial remains of the letter K on Turtle Reef. (Click image for credit and larger view.)
Researcher recording biological characterization of the Turtle Reef site. (Click image for credit and larger view.)
Diver inspecting the coral growth on a beacon that remains at Turtle Reef. (Click image for larger view.)

Beacon K: Turtle Reef

Coordinates: 25° 16.935' N / 080° 12.5' W
Depth: 7’

The Turtle Reef beacon at the northern end of Key Largo is the most northerly beacon in the Florida Keys sanctuary. It was labeled with alphabetical letter "K" and can be found 3.6 nautical miles east southeast of North Key Largo. Turtle Reef was particularly important to mariners as it marked the entrance to a safe anchorage inside the reef known as Turtle Harbor.

Turtle Reef includes patch reefs among the sand and rocks, just inside thick meadows of seagrass. The hardbottom habitat is flat with outcrops of reef framework colonized by hard corals, gorgonians, sponges, invertebrates, and macro algae. The site is approximately seven feet deep. As with most of the upper Keys, the area experiences mostly clear if somewhat green water.

The remains of two beacons are still standing erect in 12 feet of water. Unlike the other beacon sites, both extant piles had large disc bases. Beacon 1 projected 13 feet above water, while beacon 2 barely broke the water's surface. Among the scattered artifacts archaeologist found turnbuckles and metal straps that secured beacon 1 to three stakes driven into the seafloor. Lying on the seafloor near beacon 2, the team recorded a 31-foot long triple-vane mast. The mast belonging to Beacon 1 was found directly under it. The 36-foot single-vane mast still had the square iron frame that once held the letter "K". Fragments of the letter “K” lay nearby.

Site Map

Beacon K: Turle Reef site map.

Click for a printable Turtle Reef site map.


The site has a high diversity of benthic species and denser populations of coral, invertebrates and fish. Rough starlet coral smooth starlet coral, knobby brain coral and gorgonians present. Macro algae covered approximately five percent of the beacons, structures, and pilings. Approximately 17 species of sponges, 18 species of invertebrates, and 27 species of fish were recorded at the time of the survey.

pdf Turtle Reef Totten Beacon Biological Survey 08/27/14 (466 kb)

 Click on image for credit and larger view.


Three-Dimensional Models

Explore the beacon remains on the seafloor without getting wet! The images below show part of 3D models created using multi-image photogrammetry. Click an image to load the model, and then click, hold, and adjust your mouse to view the model from different angles.

Turtle Rocks Totten Beacon Tri-Vane Staff by Corey Malcolm/Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

Some later versions of the Totten Beacons had a “tri-vane” design, in which three iron letters were mounted atop the shaft. This allowed mariners approaching from any direction to readily determine what marker they were seeing. This model depicts the fallen, submerged, and decayed Turtle Rocks Reef tri-vane top.

Turtle Rocks Totten Beacon - Letter K by Corey Malcolm/Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

The major portion of the large, iron letter “K” that once was mounted atop the Turtle Rocks Totten Beacon is now broken away and lying on the seafloor. The scale bar is 20 centimeters long.


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