Western Sambo Ecological Reserve

Map of the Western Sambo Ecological Reserve

The Western Sambo Ecological Reserve contains the greatest habitat diversity in the Lower Keys. Significant coral features include spur-and-groove formations, bank reefs, and nearshore patch reefs. A rectangular 11.61 square-mile-area, Western Sambo Ecological Reserve begins at the water's edge off the sandy beaches and salt ponds of Boca Chica Naval Air Station. It continues through nearshore hard-bottom and inshore patch reefs, out across mid-channel reefs in Hawk Channel, over offshore patch reefs and the shallow bank reef, and ends at a depth of 60 feet.

Western Sambo has one of the last remaining stands of living elkhorn coral in the Lower Keys, a species once abundant throughout the Keys. Anemones, crabs, starfish, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, and sea urchins are found nearshore. Surgeonfish (Acanthurus spp.), bar jacks (Carangoides ruber), foureye butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus), rosy blennies (Malacoctenus macropus), neon gobies (Elacatinus oceanops), striped parrotfish (Scarus iseri), butter hamlets (Hypplectrus unicolor), sharpnosed puffers (Canthigaster rostrata), schoolmaster snappers (Lutjanus apodus), grunts (Haemulidae), wrasses (Labridae), angelfish (Pomacanthidae), and damselfish (Pomacentridae), are residents at the reef. Huge gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus) and hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) meander the shallow areas of Western Sambo.

Special regulations apply here. Learn more about what activities are allowed in this type of zone.

A summary of all sanctuary regulations is available online. For the full text of sanctuary regulations, see 15 CFR 922 Subpart P.

Very high water temperatures in the summer of 2023 have caused widespread coral bleaching and mortality in the Florida Keys. Descriptions of coral cover or coral health on this page may not be accurate based on current conditions.