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.

Me with Conch, U/W Music Festival

That’s me, with a beautiful conch shell (that I returned to the sandy bottom).

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.

Strike Zone Charters, with its two 40'-45' catamarans, and other boats of all sizes came together at Looe Key Reef for the 32nd Annual Underwater Music Festival on July 9, 2016.

Strike Zone Charters, with its two 40′-45′ catamarans, and other boats of all sizes came together at Looe Key Reef for the 32nd Annual Underwater Music Festival on July 9, 2016. (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Scrawled filefish on the reef.

Scrawled filefish on the reef. (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Blue tang (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Blue tang (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

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.

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(All photos were taken with my Canon Powershot D-30 camera, which is rated to a depth of 85 feet. I love it for both underwater and topside photography.)

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.

Nicole Pacha, Sarah Brunner and Larry Threlkeld, pretended to play underwater instruments sculpted by a local artist at the U/W Music Fest.

Nicole Pacha, Sarah Brunner and Larry Threlkeld, pretended to play underwater instruments sculpted by a local artist at the U/W Music Fest. (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Mermaids playing instruments were part of the fun at the Underwater Music Festival.

Mermaids playing instruments were part of the fun at the Underwater Music Festival. (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

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.”

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22 Comments on “Scuba diving on Looe Key Reef, Florida Keys: a sanctuary for sea life

    • I hadn’t either, Linda! The short video I did shows that you could, indeed, hear the music underwater! No matter when you visit, this reef is spectacular.

    • It was my first time to dive there but I’m ready to go back for more! I want to dive at Pennekamp State Park, too. Lots of great dive sites to explore!

  1. Wow! So beautiful!! I have never gone scuba diving, so I really enjoyed reading about your experience, and looking at all your photos and watching the video!!

    • Hi Marilyn! Thanks for stopping by! Even if you don’t dive, the snorkeling at Looe Key Reef is spectacular, too, so keep that in mind if you travel to the Keys!

  2. What a great video and images, the music sounds great in the video. You really did capture more interesting fish than me snorkeling up on top and fumbling with my cell phone. I’ll have to look into your camera for underwater images which turned out fantastic.

    • Thanks, Noel! Yes, that camera astounds me every time I use it underwater… No housing required. It was a great day and I’m so glad we got to experience it together, along with our other Florida Keys adventures!

  3. What an interesting idea: an Underwater Music Festival! I wonder if you can hear music under the water… In enjoyed watching your video, Debbie, but that’s about where my interest for scuba diving stops. The water doesn’t seem so clear though. How does that it compare to the Hawaiian islands? I had better visibility while snorkeling in Hawaii.

    • Yes, you can, Anda! Maybe you didn’t have your sound turned up because you can hear the music well! The visibility that day was good but not great. However, I think it was partially because there were quite a few people in the water, including a camera crew nearby, photographing the “mermaids.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get to dive when I was in Kauai, due to rough waters the day we were to go.

  4. That’s amazing that you can hear the music so well. It is good to see that the coral is healthy, unfortunately this is not the case in many places where warming waters have caused bleaching.

    • Yes, I’ve seen some evidence of that in other places. It is always gratifying to dive in a place where the fish and coral are thriving.

  5. Fun! (and you found Dory, too!) I love the idea of the underwater music, and the mermaids are a nice touch!

    • It was a fun event and an amazing day…one to remember! I’d recommend it to anyone who snorkels or dives!

  6. Love the idea of an underwater music festival. Although, ‘soaking up’ the sea world at any time simply refreshes my soul when I’m fortunate enough to be part of it. Good pix! 🙂

    • Thank you, Ursula! I agree. To me, there is nothing so soul-satisfying at being on or under the sea!

  7. The Underwater Music Festival is an interesting and fun idea. Your photos are great. I’m not a scuba diver and enjoy the opportunity to see some of the beauty under the sea through other’s photos.

    • It’s a different world under there, Donna! Adding a musical “soundtrack” made it seem like I was in my own movie!

  8. Hi Debbie: I love music, but I think I would rather that the music be piped into buds that the divers are wearing in their ears vs being pumped openly into the water, as I wonder how the fish like the music??? I think it’s disruptive enough that we may be invading their habitants with our presence, but blasting them with our music just doesn’t feel right to me. Nonetheless, I’m sure it’s an adventure and like you, I love being by, on or in the water more than almost anything in the world. Cheers and happy travels.

    • Hi Doreen, I have to say that I never would have thought of the music as being disruptive to the fish. They didn’t seem to notice while I was diving among them. I like the idea of earbuds, though!

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