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Key Largo snorkeling

John Pennekamp State Park is the home of America's first underwater park, and the only reefs in the continental US too. So it's not surprising that snorkeling and scuba diving are the two most popular activities here.

I had tried to snorkel here a few years ago, but was stymied by bad weather. This time things looked better, so I carried my gear from the trailer over to the park's shop for the noon boat. (Since the tourists have not begun to arrive in large numbers yet, reservations weren't necessary.)

My buddy on the trip turned out to be a French man who was in town for a convention of polymer chemists. He spoke little English and I speak very little French. Perfect. I had fun trying to translate the Captain's speech about coral protection, reef fish, inflatable vests, and Man O'War jellyfish. I learned the French word for jellyfish, then promptly forgot it.

The reef is about five miles offshore. The trip out, winding through canals of mangrove, is visually interesting and fun, especially in a fast twin-diesel turbine boat. Unfortunately, out in the open water the seas were running 3-4 feet, which is too choppy for snorkeling. Also, I suffer from mal de mer, as I explained it to my snorkel buddy, and once they anchored the boat at Grecian Rocks reef, the motion began to get to me. I got in the water fast.

On the reef the waves were 1-2 feet, acceptable for snorkeling. It still was a bit rough but, hey, I was out there, I'd spent $31, and being in the 78 degree water was a lot nicer than sitting on a pitching and rocking boat for 90 minutes. Besides, my French snorkel buddy needed me. He didn't know the signal to come back to the boat when time was up.

Keys snorkeling.jpg
Hey, aren't you supposed to have top of the tube above the water?

We saw colorful reef fish of all types, conch, several types of coral, and even a Spanish cannon. (My French associate Jack provided all these pictures from his underwater digital camera. I took many others with a film camera but haven't developed it yet.)

I was thrilled to see a two-foot long grouper capture and eat a 4" long reef fish right in front of me. (I guess the colorful disguise didn't help that little guy.) But I didn't see some of the creatures that I had hoped for, including nurse sharks and stingrays.

Keys fish.jpg

Eleanor and Emma checked out the two beaches that are here in the park. Like most of the Upper Keys, Key Largo has no natural beaches, so the only ones you will find are man-made and quite small. They could have gone snorkeling off the beach over a reproduction (!) of a Spanish wreck, but the water close to shore was too turbid from the wave action today. It was also Art & Crafts day -- they made jewelry for Christmas gifts. The trailer is filled with colorful beads and silver wire.

I would have liked to have taken them with me, but Emma is not ready for a snorkel boat yet. She needs to get out of the habit of standing up everytime she sees something underwater. The coral is too fragile for that.

We've snorkeled four states so far on this trip: Vermont, Maine, Florida, and Texas. Anywhere the water is clear, we'll go take a look. Any suggestions?


the reef at Looe Big Pine Key...I think is maybe clearer water could go to No Name Pub for lunch or dinner while there at Big Pine...and check out Bahia Honda SP...

I thought I was your snorkle buddy. Or maybe just the guy with a lot of hot air.

Sounds like a great trip. I'm holding my breath for the next installment.

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