|Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary just off Big Pine and the Lower Florida Keys offers snorkeling & diving | Site Map|
Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary
Located about five nautical miles offshore of Big Pine Key is Looe Key, which isn’t an island but a “groove and spur” reef and part of the reef system that parallels the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys. This reef got its name from the HMS Looe which supposedly ran aground there in 1744 while towing a captured French ship, the Snow. While crossing the reef, the HMS Looe hit hard in only 25 feet of water and quickly burned to the waterline, taking the accompanying ship with her. Recent archeological studies say that the ship that went down with the Looe was named Billander Betty and that ballast stones located at the eastern end of the reef are from those two ships. But some pieces of thin copper, possibly hull sheathing, and a piece of concrete located in that area of the reef seem to indicate that the ballast and wreckage found there may be from a wreck more closely resembling a 19th century merchantman.
The reef at Looe Key, roughly 200 yards wide and 800 yards long is generally “U” shaped, and is comprised of both patch and outside reefs. It became a National Marine Sanctuary in 1981 due, in part, to the success of the Key Largo Sanctuary created in 1975. This “sanctuary” designation means that there are absolute restrictions on spearfishing, tropical fish and shell collecting and wire fish traps. Marine police patrol the reef and keep a close eye on activities there.
Because of its unique shape and varying depths, Looe Key is an excellent SCUBA and snorkeling site for people of all skill levels. Water clarity is mostly excellent and sea conditions are generally moderate. The reef is home to over 150 species of fish including yellowtail, angelfish, parrotfish, barracuda, sergeant majors, and moray eel. The lucky diver can also see several shark and ray species. After 7000 years of coral growth, about fifty species are present, many named for the shapes of their namesakes on land. These corals include staghorn, elkhorn, star, brain, and fire corals.
In 1998, a special diving attraction was added to this area offshore of the Lower Keys. About 3 miles west of Looe Key, lies the Adolphus Busch, sunk in 110 feet of water in December of 1998 as an artificial reef. This 210 foot long ship was well prepared for experienced advanced divers with large holes cut for swim throughs. Large Jewfish, some weighing as much as 400 lbs., live on the wreck and can be seen on many dives.
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Looe Key is located off the Lower Keys and offers fabulous snorkeling and diving.
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