“The sea hath no king but God alone.” – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, echoes through the waves, the truth submerged deep into the depths of the ocean, in the form of a corporal example, the Christ of Abyss. It was placed in the Mediterranean Sea off San Fruttuoso just amidst the Portofino and Camogli on the Italian Riviera, on 22 August 1954 at approximately 17 meters depth and with a height of 2.5 meters. And, all around the globe, replicas of this masterpiece attracts thousands of worshippers, believers, travelers, artists and intellectuals, both underwater, and in churches and museums.
However, in this article, we are to explore one of the replicas of the Christ of Abyss, instead of the original one, which has more of a religious aura. The Christ of Abyss of Key Largo, Florida, U.S.A is one such destination that not only has it’s didactic essence preserved into the marine depths, but also thrives as a very popular tourist spot, diver’s paradise and even tops the list of crazy-wedding destinations! So if you’ve been a diver or a sea lover all your life and by Fate’s rejoice come to be engaged with one such individual whose sea-tolerance is considerably high, and together you both had been breaking your heads thinking of an apt place to commemorate your auspicious union, what better place than The Christ of Abyss! In the presence of the 8 1/2 foot, 4,000 pound bronze sculpture of Jesus Christ, the bride and bridegroom buoyed in the realms of utmost peace and purity commencing their emotional bond within the ties of marriage-all this seems to have just popped out of a fairytale, isn’t it? But it’s very much possible. All you need to do is to pack your stuffs, tell the wedding manager, invite the guests, order for your wedding diving suits and follow the itinerary of arriving the marine paradise!
As it’s located near the Dry Rocks which is about six miles east–north of the Key Largo Cut, only a 90-minute drive from Miami, would bring you to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which is engulfed in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, embracing over 2,900 square nautical miles of coral reefs, mangrove swamps and sea grass beds, on either sides of the Key Island belt, across the waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
And, all the credit for the inception of this exceptional destination goes to the late “Miami Herald” editor John Pennekamp who helped to create the first undersea park in the United States of America, and installed a replication of masterpiece, The Christ of Abyss deep down in the sea. By the State legislature Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established in 1916 with the goal of protecting the miracle, America’s only living coral reefs which now offers its visitors a galore of opportunities to observe the bounteous underwater wildlife composed of the indigenous population of numerous species of fish and varieties of coral. The corals there is an abode for snails, moray eels, crabs, lobsters, sea urchins, chitons(mollusks),worms, sand dollars, sponges, starfishes, barnacles and sea cucumbers.
In this haven of copious marine-life, divers, snorkelers and sea-lovers get the opportunity to rediscover the experience of being in a marine park, in the most literally extravagant way, with its assortment of underwater attractions, such as beaches, nature trails, picnic pavilions, 30,000-gallon aquarium, water activities such as viewing the reef on glass-bottom boats, canoeing, boat rentals, snorkelling and scuba diving, of course, as well as kayaking on the mangrove-hemmed waterways.
But, a park encompassing an area of some 63,845 acres covering uplands and submerged regions, with its 47 campsites, is much of a hectic place to have explored all at once, so the best way is to chalk out a few must do activities, in which plunging into the waters and swimming to the Christ of the Deep or the Christ of Abyss statue donated to the Underwater Society of America in 1961 by industrialist Egidi Cressi, tops!
As too much of facts and history boils the brain, this already mind-boggling journey has to have a plan, and so here it is!
- If you’re a licensed coral collector, (though it is prohibited here) you are surly to be enthralled by its abundant population down there. While diving in to meet the Christ of the Abyss, you can surely expect to find staghorn, elkhorn of large brain coral formations and four-foot barracuda formations all posing ready to be photographed! So, do dive deep!
- Well, the park provides various ways to introduce you to the Pennekamp’s residents, and Glass-bottomed Boat is for those who have aqua-phobia, hydrophobia, thalassophobia or simply any kind of phobia associated with water, or for those who are too lazy to dive otherwise. It peregrinates you through the park’s reefs where you can glimpse a huge variety of corals, fishes and other marine residents indigenous to the area. Generally, on a daily basis, three basic tours are offered, scheduled for 9:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 3 p.m.
- Go snorkelling! Of course that’s one thing you simply have to do here, to get the real feel. The park facilitates rentals for all the stuffs you require for your snorkelling venture-fins, snorkel, masks, etc., and you can travel on The Encounter and Dolphin dive boats ,to get to your spot, which does so, again three times daily for 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. It is a 2.5-hour reef trip, where you are basically allowed to spend almost 1.5 hours, in the water, is just a must do!
- And, then the ultimate, Scuba diving. Here, you are to board a 35-passenger boat, The Reef Adventures which departs daily at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for two-tank dive trips to two area sites. Again, the rentals and equipments are all arranged by the park along with a complete scuba diving instructor, however, to experience all of this, you are required to be certified divers. The best diving sites in and around the park constitute, the pillar corals of tongue-and-spur Molasses Reef, the massive brain coral heads and, the resident southern sting rays, moray eels and silvery permit at shallow French Reef and the Elbow and Horseshoe among the other Key Largo reefs. Moreover, as there are several other independently owned dive shops that provide similar trips as the park, you of course are not bound to participate in the trips arranged by the park only.
- But, for all these who aren’t very interested in these underwater adventures, John Pennekamp also offers two amazing manmade beaches, canoe, kayak and boat rentals and nature trails. All facilitated with electrical hook-ups and water, the camp also has 47 campsites. But due to its extreme popularity, if you wish to experience all of it, then you ought to make reservations, at least 11 months prior to your trip date!
The one in which The Christ resides, is a dome shaped reef gulfing the surface at low tide on the landward side and tilting to 25-feet on the seaward side. Originally made by Egidi Cressi, the statue is one of the three, sculpted from the mold by an Italian sculptor Guido Galleti. The original “Il Christo Degli Abissi” or the Christ of Abyss of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy, was the first whose replicated Christ of the Deep, later sculpted in 1961, was donated to the Underwater Society of America, which again donated it to the Florida State Park Service, for their marvelous work in the conservation of the marine biosphere and creation of America’s first underwater park housing such a great population of coral reefs,and marine beings, though miraculously.
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, sheltering the Christ of Abyss amidst the constellation of indigenous marine species, is but a safe haven for the nature marine wildlife, and is one of the oldest underwater parks, not only in Florida, or even U.S.A, but stands out as a paradigm for the world.