Skip to Content
Search Icon
Issue 16 – Easter 2023


Bits of Flotsam and Tiny Coral Things

On the history of the Florida Keys.


One of the more photographed statues of Jesus Christ in the United States is underwater. The four-thousand-pound bronze statue, called the Christ of the Abyss, sits in twenty-five feet of water, about four miles offshore from the Florida Keys. It was installed in 1965 on Molasses Reef, the most impressive coral reef in the U.S., and it depicts Jesus raising his arms and gazing upward. It is not the most handsome or technically accomplished statue of Christ, but it is aided greatly by its natural surroundings. Shafts of light from above dance across the arms and face of the statue, while deep shadows and murk collect near its base, creating a striking chiaroscuro effect. Snorkelers sometimes dive down and make the mistake of touching the statue when it hasn’t been cleaned recently, only to discover that the hem of this particular garment is covered in fire coral. (Fire coral is actually a species of sponge, but the “fire” part is accurate enough; it’s armed with the same type of stinging cells as jellyfish tentacles.)

The statue is one of the many curios that have accumulated in the Florida Keys over the years. The chain of small islands, stretching about one hundred and twenty-five miles south-southwest from the tip of mainland Florida, attracts all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, inanimate and human. Fugitives regularly turn up here, as do migrants from Cuba and Haiti on makeshift rafts. Boaters often come across floating bales of cocaine abandoned by drug runners. Writers, young divers, and fish-haunted anglers also seem to feel the tug of an invisible current driving them to the islands.

You must or subscribe to read the rest of the article.

About the author

C. J. Ciaramella