In the nearshore waters edging Navarre Beach Marine Park on Santa Rosa Island, Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary encompasses several artificial reefs that both boost marine habitats and provide snorkelers and scuba divers with easy-access undersea exploration. Among them is the SR-26 snorkel reef on the Gulf side of the Marine Park, just a stone’s throw from shore and attracting some thrilling Gulf of Mexico fish and other aquatic life.
Like the two artificial-reef complexes on the other side of the barrier island in the Marine Sanctuary’s Santa Rosa Sound waters, the Gulf snorkel reef is made up of so-called “trees”: pilings driven into the seafloor and containing several concrete discs cased in Florida limestone, which provide an artificial reef substrate mimicking natural coral formations.
Nearly 80 of these structures make up this snorkel reef, situated some 2,000 feet east of the Navarre Beach Pier and accessed via the boardwalk beach access from the Sea Oat Pavilion, which is the farthest southeast of Navarre Beach Marine Park’s beach pavilions. There are PVC posts in the seashore sand marking the reef’s location, just past the second offshore sandbar.
You never know what you might see snorkeling or diving at this reef, which attracts such native Gulf fish as snapper, triggerfish, grouper, king mackerel, and cobia, plus the occasional shark or ray. These reef structures are also a playground for octopi, urchins, and other invertebrates, and occasionally frequented by the charming sea turtles that nest and forage along the Emerald Coast.
From June through September, clear-bottom kayak tours are also led out to the Gulf snorkel reef: a topside means of appreciating this special sanctuary.
Fun as it is to lounge about on the sands and cast from the pier at Navarre Beach Marine Park, it’s an extra-special visit when you can check in on the undersea action just offshore at the Gulf snorkel reef! This is easily one of the best spots in the greater Pensacola Beach area to don snorkeling or diving gear and get some up-close-and-personal looks at fish, sea turtles, octopi, and other marine denizens of the Florida Panhandle’s white-sand seashore!
– The SR-26 snorkel reef isn’t the only artificial reef in the Gulf waters here: One Mile Out Reef farther offshore, which was built in 2018, comprises close to 30 patch reefs and offers additional diving opportunities.