Molasses Reef is a coral reef located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It lies to the southeast of Key Largo, within the Key Largo Existing Management Area, which is immediately to the east of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This reef is within a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA).
An unmanned reef light is located near the reef.
On August 4, 1984, the motor vessel Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter carrying pelletized chicken feed, ran aground on Molasses Reef. The total destruction from the grounding included 5,805 square meters of living corals and injury to 75,000 square meters of reef habitat. The vessel was removed by the US Coast Guard. NOAA coordinated an effort to restore damage to the reef, by placing reef modules in the injured areas to provide a substrate for new coral colonization. Biological restoration took place using transplants from Pickles Reef and the facilitation of coral larval settlement. NOAA settled a claim worth $6.275 million with the responsible parties, the Wellwood Shipping Company (owner of the vessel) and the Hanseatic Shipping Company (shipping management company), in 1986, and all payments to NOAA were completed by 2001.
Molasses Reef is popular scuba diving and snorkeling location with numerous dive sites marked by mooring buoys.
One notable site is at buoy #7 and is variously referred to as the Winch Hole, Windlass Wreck, or The Winch. Here lies the large mechanical winch from the Slobadana, a 170 foot wooden hulled schooner that sank in 1887 after only three years in service. In addition to the winch itself, various mechanical artifacts are scattered over the nearby area. Also, large coral formations with (relatively) deep channels between them make this a popular dive location.
Approximate coordinates: Coordinates:
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) with white spot disease at Molasses Reef in March 2008
Montastraea annularis at Molasses Reef, March 2008
Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) at Molasses Reef, March 2008
- Air Photo of Molasses Reef in 1984, showing the wreck of the Wellwood as well as the reef light (near center)
- Benthic Habitat Map
- Gittings, SR; Bright, TJ; Holland, BS (1990). "Five years of coral recovery following a freighter grounding in the Florida Keys". In: Jaap, WC (ed). Advances in Underwater Science...90. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences Tenth annual scientific diving symposium. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
- Wellwood Coral Reef Restoration Project, accessed 12 January 2011
- NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Maps, Florida Keys East
- NOAA Website on Molasses Reef
- NOAA Navigational Chart 11464