Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Snorkeling, with Sharks, Jewfish and Colorful Tropical Fish


Cudjoe Key, Florida (high 81, low 74)


The wind finally let up and allowed us a near picture perfect boating day yesterday, and hopefully today as well.


We launched the boat at our marina, hoping for flat calm seas, clear water, and blue skies.   That is pretty much what we got.

We decided to head out to the Atlantic side and go to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.  It was named after a ship that sunk there in 1744.  The reef is well offshore but there are depths of only 4-5 feet in places.  It’s easy to see why a ship could become grounded and sink.

As we navigated out through the channel markers in the shallow water we found the seas to be a bit choppier than we had hoped.  We were disappointed, but decided to keep on going.

On the way out, we came across a pod of dolphin that appeared to be fishing.  They came over to the boat and seemed to check us out by coming out of the water and looking at us a couple of times.  I was late in getting my camera out, so I didn’t get a good photo.

Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is about 6 miles from our marina on the Atlantic side. Since it’s a marine sanctuary, everything is protected, so there is no fishing or spearfishing. 

The reef is a series of “spurs and grooves” and is part of the only coral reef in the United States.

The following is an aerial picture I borrowed from the internet .  It shows what I mean by spurs and grooves.  The light color is sand, the darker colors are the reefs. 

According to the internet, the water ranges from 5-70 feet, but we never saw anything that deep.


In order to protect the reefs from the damage from boat anchors, they have installed a series of mooring buoys that you can tie your boat to, and avoid dropping an anchor on the fragile coral.  What a wonderful idea! 

That’s the mooring buoy.  Notice the clarity of the water.



There are 54 mooring buoys, each numbered.

We wanted a spot away from the other boats and in shallow water. We slowly approached buoy number 3 with me driving and Al manning the little grabber hook to snag the rope that’s attached to the buoy.  The seas had calmed down some, so it was easy. We tied off to the buoy and we were all set without having to drop our anchor on the reef.

Once you hooked up to the mooring buoy, you just looked down and there was the reef! 

This is what I saw when I looked down


We sat there awhile and watched the other boats and enjoyed the view.  There was a pontoon boat behind us that was full of kids.  They had the best time snorkeling, screaming, laughing and calling out all the interesting things they saw.


We kept watching the water temp gauge on the fish finder and it was saying it was 77.5 degrees.   Brrrrrr.   We were determined to do some snorkeling, so we put on our skin suits, mustered up all of our courage, and jumped in. The spot we had chosen was in a depth of 12-17 feet, which is perfect for snorkeling.   When you’re snorkeling the shallower the better.  When you’re diving, you can go down to where the fish are so it’s okay to be a little deeper.  We tried to stay in the shallower areas which were only about 12 feet.

The water was a bit chilly and it took me a minute to catch m breath and finish shrieking into my snorkel.   We both had on our skin suits, which cover your entire body including arms and legs.  They take off the chill a little, but are not as warm as a wetsuit.

As soon as I put my head in and looked down,  I was amazed by the beauty. Beautiful and colorful fish were everywhere. Even though I’ve been diving hundreds and hundreds of times, I am always amazed by the beauty of an underwater reef.   

I did not have my underwater camera with me.  Don’t  ask me why, but I will definitely bring it the next time.

Before long Al came over to me and told me to look down.  He had spotted a Jewfish.   The name Jewfish has become politically incorrect in the past few years so it’s now been named Goliath Grouper, but they will always be Jewfish to me. Goliath Grouper might be more appropriate, because it’s basically a very big grouper.  Some think this is the fish that swallowed Jonah.

It took me a minute to spot the big jewfish which was hiding under a ledge.  He probably only weighed about 60-80 pounds, so he was small  for a Jewfish.  They can get to 800 pounds.  It was a thrill because it’s only the second one I’ve ever seen in my many, many, many scuba dives!  Since they are endangered, you can no longer hunt them, so their population is rebounding. 

We’ve heard there is a huge 700 pound Jewfish on another buoy at Looe Key.

A few minutes later, Al came over to me and told me he had spotted a large shark.  I went with him, but only saw it swimming away.  It was a big shark.  Al thinks he must have swam right beside him because when he looked up the shark was right in front of him. 

We snorkeled for about half hour, then decided to get back in the boat and warm up.   We ate our lunch and then started feeding the sergeant major fish that were waiting near the surface beside the boat.




Soon the yellowtail snappers came in droves. 



Sherry and David, I thought of you two with your new snorkeling gear.  I hope you get a chance to come to the Keys one day and snorkel and witness this amazing place.  It’s a perfect place to snorkel.

By the time we ate our lunch, the seas and wind had calmed down.  More and more boats came but it wasn’t a problem, since everybody had to tie off to a mooring buoy, no one was in your “space”. 


We saw another shark swim by while we were in the boat.

When we went back in the water the second time, we were even colder, and didn’t stay too long.

By the time we got back in the boat, we noticed it was getting cloudy, so we decided to head towards a fishing spot (out of the sanctuary).  Al wanted to try to catch some fish.

On the way out from Looe Key we passed over some beautiful areas of sugar white sand.  The water looked just like a swimming pool.  My photo didn’t quite capture what we saw, but it was gorgeous.


Al didn't manage to catch any fish, even though they were all around under the boat, nothing was biting.

By the time we got home, we were still cold, hungry and tired.  We ordered a pizza, ate dinner and then headed to the hot tub to warm up.  We were in bed early, and are getting ready to head back again, hoping for another day like yesterday.

Hoping for calm seas and clear (and warm) water.


  1. That would be wonderful to see such a gorgeous reef!

  2. A lovely day, about time you got a chance to hit the water. Too bad you were out of practice in bringing your underwater camera. Better luck next time! ;c)

  3. What a beautiful place! We snorkeled in Mexico, but the water wasn't near that clear.

  4. Great post! It brought back many good memories of when we lived in the Keys. We snorkeled Looe Key many times. The sandy spots are great places to find sand dollars.

  5. You are definitely making us jealous being able to be up close and personal with nature's beauty.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  6. What fun! How do you get in and out of the boat? Does it have a swim platform? I picture you guys trying and trying to hoist yourselves over the stern but the outboard is complicating things.

    1. We have a very nice swim platform. It has three steps and they fold onto the platform when not in use. Very easy getting in and out!

  7. Jealous! I rank reef snorkeling as one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Even better is having your own transportation to take you to this magical place. We have not yet snorkeled at Looe Key. Definitely on the list for the next trip to the Keys.

    The header photo is stunning.

  8. Glad the weather is getting better for your boating. Beautiful prlace.

  9. Today's post reminds me of how much fun snorkeling is. Great pics, as always.

  10. Great pics of the reef and the tropical fish - looks fantastic. BUT...sharks? I'd be outta there in a flash!

  11. Absolutely beautiful. Look at that clear, clear water.

  12. Love the clear waters there and all the colorful fish.
    We did snorkel off Key West many years ago and really enjoyed it. Amazing!

  13. Boy this sounds like a perfect day to me. 77.5 is great if you keep moving. You are so right I would love to do this. And the hot tub afterward too. Take your camera next time. I am loving the ones you took from the surface. Can't wait to see underwater pictures. What a day!


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