Lower Keys — MM39.9-4.0
The Lower Keys are the least developed of the Florida Keys and in many ways the most natural. It is here that the last remaining herd of Key Deer is found, and there are even alligators residing within a scenic inland blue hole. Yet for the visiting snorkeler and diver, the highlight of a visit to the Lower Keys wouldn't be complete without an excursion to Looe Key Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Named for the HMS Looe which ran aground here in 1744, Looe Key Reef is just 5.3 sq. nautical miles, yet within this small area is a tremendous variety of both coral structure and marine life.
Long been recognized as one of the special jewels of the Florida Keys' reef tract, the coral reef of Looe Key has been afforded special protection since 1981. Since then, all spearfishing, coral collection, and even lobstering have been banned here, with the result being large schools of friendly fish and a gorgeous coral reef. For more information on Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, visit the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce at mile marker 31 or simply dial 1-800-872-3722.
- Looe Key Reef — Here angelfish boldly swim right to a diver's facemask, and more varieties of tropical marine species are found than perhaps anywhere else in the hemisphere. One unusual aspect of Looe Key is that a complete reef ecosystem is found here, from a rubble ridge of ancient fossilized corals, to a reef flat comprised of turtle grass, to a fore reef made up of large star and brain corals arranged in a spur-and-groove coral formation sloping from 20 to 40 feet. There is even a deep reef which slopes to more than 100 feet, providing a spectacular opportunity to view the pelagic species of the Florida Keys, including eagle rays, turtles and even the rare and wonderful whale shark or manta ray on occasion.
- Adolphus Busch Sr. — Wreck diving came to the Lower Keys in a big way on December 5, 1998 with the intentional sinking of the 210-foot Adolphus Busch Sr. The former island freighter was purchased by the local dive community with the generous assistance of Adolphus Busch IV, and sunk perfectly upright and intact in just 100 feet of water some seven miles southwest of Big Pine Key. It seems each day more and more marine life calls this fascinating wreck "home." In fact, a 350-pound Goliath Grouper has already staked its claim beneath the wheelhouse.