Scuba diving on Looe Key Reef, Florida Keys: a sanctuary for sea life
Scuba diving to a soundtrack of tunes like Jimmy Buffet’s “Fins” and the Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden” was a first for me. Typically, the only sounds I hear underwater are the sounds of my own breathing, in and out through the regulator, as I fin along the reef.
Having tunes piped underwater via speakers suspended beneath boats above the reef is a novelty, but has been part of the annual Underwater Music Festival, staged each year by Keys radio station US1 104.1 FM, for the past 32 years. Several hundred divers and snorkelers converge annually on Looe Key Reef, located about five nautical miles offshore of Big Pine Key. The Festival spotlights coral reef protection and environmentally responsible diving.
Looe Key Reef, named for the HSM Looe, A British ship that wrecked in 1744. is part of a reef system that parallels the Atlantic side of the Keys and is within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. As a part of the Sanctuary, there can be no spearfishing, tropical fish or shell collecting, and no wire fish traps.
Here is a short video clip of my dives so you can hear the music that was piped underwater.
Our group motored to the reef on a 45’ catamaran with Strike Zone Charters. I was able to complete two dives on the reef and was impressed with the health of the coral and sponges and by the numbers and diversity of fish and creatures.
The reef is home to over 150 species of fish and just on my two dives I was able to identify yellowtail snapper, french grunts, white grunts, Queen angelfish, butterflyfish, Stoplight parrotfish, blue parrotfish, barracuda, sergeant majors, scrawled filefish (many of them), blue tang, pork fish, black grouper,Spanish hogfish, bar jack, (a couple others I couldn’t identify) and a large green moray eel. Amazing!
About fifty species of coral are found on the reef, too, including staghorn, elkhorn, star, brain, and fire corals.
The maximum depth is only about 30 feet, making it an ideal dive site for divers of all skill levels. Strike Zone Charters trip rates, rental prices, and instruction information can be found here.
Another part of the reef is even shallower, about 15 feet, making it perfect for snorkeling. Bahia Honda State Park’s concession operates daily snorkeling tours to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Check it out here.
If you’d like to plan to join in the 2017 Underwater Music Festival, it’s always held the Saturday after July 4th. Check the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce site for more information.
I hope to return to the Florida Keys and do more diving on Looe Key Reef and at other dive sites throughout the Keys. After diving throughout the Caribbean and in the South Pacific, this was a great introduction to U.S. diving in what is sometimes called “America’s Caribbean.”