KEY LARGO, Florida Keys — Key Largo has been described as the Dive Capital of the World, a nature lover's paradise and home to America's first underwater preserve, where ocean life abounds with brilliant tropical fish as far as the eye can see. And a 4,000-pound bronze statue that stands just beneath the ocean's surface off the island at the head of the Florida Keys remains one of the Keys' most-photographed underwater sites.
In shallow water adjacent to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, "Christ of the Abyss" rests at a depth of approximately 25 feet at a site called the Key Largo Dry Rocks in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Donated to the Underwater Society of America in 1961 by Italian scuba entrepreneur Egidi Cressi, the statue is the third bronze casting of sculptor Guido Galletti's "Il Cristo Degli Abissi," translated in English to Christ of the Abyss and also called Christ of the Deep.
Since the 8.6-foot sculpture was placed in 1965, its outstretched arms have reached upward from its pedestal, rising so close to the surface that both divers and snorkelers can view the watery effigy with ease.
The Key Largo statue also is a replica of the like-named statue set in the Mediterranean Sea, and was cast from the same mold. The Italian doppelgänger was submerged in 1954 off Genoa as a memorial to sailors lost at sea.
Surrounding the Key Largo statue are large outcroppings and thriving boulders of large brain, staghorn and elkhorn corals as well as other reef formations, and several species of fish including a photogenic barracuda.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, at Islamorada's History of Diving Museum, located at mile marker 83, the public can attend a free presentation that explores the history and journey of the famous statue. The event is part of the museum's "Immerse Yourself" lecture series.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., with extended hours for the special program. Attendees are invited to enjoy the facility's exhibits before the presentation. For details, visit divingmuseum.org.
To view the Keys' Christ of the Abyss firsthand, contact one of the more than 30 independently owned glass-bottom boat, scuba and snorkel excursion operators in the Key Largo area that offer daily trips.
Since the 8.6-foot sculpture was placed in 1965, its outstretched arms have reached upward from its pedestal, rising so close to the surface that both divers and snorkelers can view the watery effigy with ease. Images: Stephen Frink
In 2010, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, a commemorative wreath was placed on the statue.