Looe Key Reef is one of the Florida Keys most visited Living Coral Reefs, it’s a colorful place to dive or snorkel

There’s a reason why Looe Key Reef is so popular. It’s one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the Florida keys with its many coral spurs. It’s only 8 miles from my door. It’s part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

It’s quick and easy to boat to anywhere from Bahia Honda to Big Pine Key thru Sugarloaf Key. Some divers come all the way from Marathon in their boats.

The GPS numbers are 24-32-671 N and 081-24-485 W. The marker has not been replaced yet. It was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in October of 2005.

Looe Key Reef began its life as a ship. It was a British Ship either a Frigate or a Man O’ War, I’ve read both. It was also towing another ship when it ran aground in 1744. Knowing that there were pirates and wreckers around the good Captain of his Ship set her on fire. It burnt to the waterline then sank to the bottom, taking her treasures with her.

On the eastern end of what is now Looe Key Reef you can see a pile of ballast stones and the chain from her anchor. It’s encrusted with corals and other sea flora and fauna.

The reef has buoys to mark good spots for diving and snorkeling. Tying your boat off to the buoys prevent anchors from damaging the corals.

The middle part of the reef has 32 buoys. The depth here goes to thirty feet. Buoys 33 thru 39 are in shallow water. It ranges from three to fifteen feet. This is a really beautiful area. This is a great place to snorkel. Beautiful corals and lots of sea creatures. Buoys 40 thru 49 are actually at a patch reef. The depth here is fifteen feet. There’s lots of soft corals and sea whips. This area is stirred up just about every time I dive there. So the visibility may not be so good. Buoys 50 thru 70 are in the deep area of the reef. This is the place for advanced scuba divers. This area drops off to one hundred feet. I used to see large grouper in this area. You’ll need to be careful when diving here, lots of the time there is a strong current.

Most of the divers like the waters in the thirty foot range. There’s usually good visibility. I see lots of underwater photographers here and in all depths at Looe Key.

The HMS Looe isn’t the only ship that has sank here. There are many ships piled onto each other all encrusted with the gorgeous corals that we now get to enjoy. One of the coral spurs has grown around an old anchor that came off one of these wrecks. Ships still run aground here.

Corals, soft corals and tropical fish

One of the more severe groundings in recent years was by a University of Miami Research Vessel. The R/V Columbus Iselin a 155' vessel did severe damage to four coral spurs on the western part of the reef. On August 10, 1994 no one was on wheel watch and the vessel was on automatic pilot when the grounding occurred. It was removed on August 12,1994.

The grooves that were made by the vessel sitting there pounding on the coral were repaired. A team began the repair immediately trying to save the damaged coral. They placed boulders, re-bar and tremie concrete in layer upon layer to rebuild the sections. Pieces of purple sea fans and other corals were planted. Mote Marine, located on Summerland Key , has been doing research on transplanting corals. This gave them a working lab in which to try their experiments. It didn’t take long after the project was finished for the algae and corals too began to reestablish themselves on the new reef. It worked. The corals grew from the pieces they planted.

Hurricane Georges churned thru this area in 1998. The pounding waves and the 25' seas blew out some of the repairs. More restoration was needed. Today you can easily see where this area is. It looks good. Sea life and corals are growing there.

Nurse Shark Florida Keys

This is a great place to dive or snorkel. It has grass areas, sandy patches, a cave, soft corals, large corals and overhangs, tropical fish , sharks , barracuda, grouper and it’s a wreck dive .

Looe Key Reef is but one of the beautiful dive sites that are located all around the Florida Keys.

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