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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
There were bigger corals at that location.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.