Sand Key Sanctuary Preservation Area

Map of Sand Key Sanctuary Preservation Area

Just seven miles west of Key West, Sand Key Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) is marked by an old red iron lighthouse that was completed in 1853. Originally called "Cayos Arena" (Sand Island) by early Spanish explorers, the shape of Sand Key shifts with the weather.

The reef within the Sand Key SPA is typical of major Lower Keys spur and groove reefs. The spurs are ridges of coral 5 to 20 feet deep, with grooves of sandy bottom between cliff-like structures. Fire coral abounds in several sections of the reef. The northwest side of the reef has coral heads and mixed rubble in close proximity to the lagoon. The south side of the reef gradually slopes away to a gentle ledge at about 65 feet, dropping to 90 feet in some places.

In the shallows are artifacts from the original brick lighthouse, which blew away in an 1846 storm. Visibility at Sand Key can be highly variable, ranging from 15 to 110 feet, depending on the wind, wave action, and monthly tide variations.

Sand Key
Photo: Ryan Tryeblood
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.

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.