Snorkeling Looe Key – Great Snorkel With Big Fish

Florida Keys

Snorkeling Looe Key is exciting, and maybe not for the faint of heart when it comes to the bigger types of creatures you can run into underwater. Looe Key is also a generally deeper snorkel spot than some people may enjoy.

Snorkeling Looe Key, two snorkelers on the surface with fish.

Looe Key is a big reef, about seven miles offshore of Big Pine Key, with a large variety of depths and water conditions throughout it. And it is famous for having bigger species like sharks, Colossal Grouper, Tarpon and rays. Pretty much all the fish are bigger here, because Looe Key is right on the barrier reef edge, and it is flushed with fresh ocean currents. And you can really tell you are on the ocean. Without any wind we were riding up and down on 1-2 foot ocean swells while snorkeling Looe Key.

2023 Coral Bleaching Event – Please note that very high water temperatures in the summer of 2023 have caused widespread coral bleaching and death in the Florida Keys. So the descriptions on this page are not accurate. If you wish to see healthy coral reefs we now recommend you visit the Coral Triangle.

Looe Key Is a Big Reef to Snorkel

We snorkeled three locations at Looe Key, from east to west.

Blue Angelfish at Looe Key.

Spot #1 – Snorkeling Looe Key

The first spot, on the east side was a bit shallower than the middle and west side, and the visibility was the best. It is still a fairly deep snorkel spot. So you are not getting as up-close and personal with the fish and corals without diving down as some other spots in the Keys.

Soft coral and reef fish seen while snorkeling at Looe Key.
Looking down at a Rainbow Parrotfish at Looe Key.

Spot #2 Looe Key Reef

The second location had less fish, but some big ones. There was a huge Tarpon that would hang out under the boat in deep water, and a very beat up old barracuda. See pictures below.

Big Tarpon at Looe Key.
Beat up looking barracuda at Looe Key.
Colorful soft corals with a Stoplight Parrotfish and Bluehead Wrasses.

It was here we saw our first Colossal Grouper. This fish was easily 150 pounds and nearly six feet long. It would just float in the shade under the boat.

Huge Colossal Grouper near coral head at Looe Key Reef

Spot #3 – Snorkeling Looe Key

The third and most western spot we snorkeled on Looe Key was deeper, with a trench that ran south to north. It is known as Shark Alley. It often has big Spotted Eagle Rays, sharks, and other big fish. It was not an ideal snorkeling spot, because of its depth, but it was very interesting.

Variety of soft and hard corals with parrotfish at Looe Key.

There were bigger corals at that location.

Tall Elkhorn Coral at Looe Key

Snorkeling Sunburns Suck!

Check out the snorkeling rash guards, wetsuits, and reef safe sunscreen we use to protect ourselves and to protect fish and coral from sunscreen chemicals.

Elkhorn Coral and school of chromis fish at Looe Key.

We found far less fish at this location, but we noticed much bigger fish very deep tucked under the rock ledges. We noticed a Reef Shark cruising by several times. You can barely see it in the bad picture below. It was not that interested in us.

Reef Shark and coral at Looe Key.

More About What We Saw While Snorkeling Looe Key

Looe Key is the place to see giant parrotfish. At each location in the Keys we kept thinking we had seen the biggest parrotfish ever. But Looe Key takes the prize. They are huge there, and tons of them.

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Massive Rainbow Parrotfish at Looe Key.

Just to show how big the Rainbow Parrotfish is below, the Midnight Parrotfish next to him is actually a normal sized parrotfish you would see most anywhere.

Huge Rainbow Parrotfish next to smaller Midnight Parrotfish.
Gray Angelfish over zoanthids on Looe Key Reef

Following are lists of the fish and corals we found when snorkeling Looe Key Reef.

We saw a Queen Angelfish, Blue Angelfish, Banded Butterflyfish, Foureye Butterflyfish, French Angelfish, Rock Beauty, Gray Angelfish, Blue Tangs, Ocean Surgeonfish, Bar Jacks, Great Barracuda, chubs, jacks, grunts, Yellowtail Snapper, Gray Snapper, Porkfish, Bicolor Damselfish, Sergeant Major, Yellowtail Damselfish, Nassau Grouper, Colossal Grouper, Midnight Parrotfish, Rainbow Parrotfish, Blue Parrotfish, Stoplight Parrotfish, Hogfish, Bluehead Wrasse, Cleaning Goby, Flying Gurnard, Amber Jack, Porcupinefish, Scrawled Filefish, Tarpon, Nurse Shark, and Black Tipped Reef Shark.

Sea Rod at Looe Key

Overall the coral was not as healthy or as prolific as some of the closer to shore patch reefs we have visited.

We saw Elkhorn Coral, Lobed Star Coral, Fire Coral, small brain Coral, tons of fans, sea rods, and soft corals as well as some Christmas Tree Worms, White Encrusting Zoanthid, and Green Finger Sponge.

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Find a Boat Company

We suggest you use TripAdvisor to look for current companies running snorkel trips out of Big Pine Key and reviews of them. The link below goes to a community post with some boat company ideas too.

Suggestions and Questions From Other Snorkelers

Big healthy Elkhorn Corals and a massive Star Coral Head at Looe Key.

More Florida Keys Snorkeling Tips