Sunday, 22 May 2016

Looe Key :: MK Thyfault & Amanda Schaaf

                        ~ Looe Key ~                     


Located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, this beautiful coral reef is located about 5 miles offshore of Big Pine Key. The reef is located within a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) and part of the reef is designated as a "Research Only" area.


The reef is named after the HMS Looe, which ran into the reef and sank in 1744. More recently however, the reef was struck again by the R/V Columbus Iselin in 1994. Owned by the University of Miami, NOAA required them to pay 3.76 million dollars for the Columbus Iselin Reef Restoration Project.

Looe Key is called a "spur and groove" reef due to its finger-like pattern which spans horizontally (above). Since the shallow-most part of Looe Key is the reef crest, it is constantly exposed to more wave action than the lower parts of the reef. As the wave crashes over the reef crest, the water must escape back into the deeper ocean. After years of geological transformation, the ocean has formed "grooves"  in the reef to allow the water to escape while the "spurs" continue to grow higher and act like ledges to fall into these grooves.

Credit: Dr. Joshua Voss

Compared to previous sites this week, Looe Key contained, without a doubt, the most biodiversity. The reef itself was more offshore, therefore deeper. It had more structure, offering more protection for reef creatures. We saw pompano, mackerel, tarpon, lionfish, bar gate, cocoa damselfish, scrawled filefish, Bermuda chub, Goliath grouper (right), reef sharks (below) and black tip sharks for the first time!

Credit: Corey Corrick

Credit: Dr. Joshua Voss

Credit: Dr. Joshua Voss

Credit: Dr. Joshua Voss

It also contained the largest population of Acropora palmata (elk horn coral) that we have ever seen (below) 

Credit: Dr. Joshua Voss

Dr. Hanisak, our algae specialist, mentioned that he saw the most Halimeda opuntia that he has ever seen there before. A larger presence of algae in the area is not always a good thing as it decreases substrate area for coral settlement. 

I think every Spartina Spartan will agree that this was, without a doubt, the best site we visited this past week.

Thanks to Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center for a great trip! Watch their promo video below!

Also, big thanks to everyone at Keys Marine LaboratoryDr. Joshua Voss, and Dr. Dennis Hanisak for the awesome week! Hope to see you all again soon!


  1. Great pictures! Were these taken in 2016? If so, how would you evaluate the health of the acropora palmata, specifically the prevalence of white pox disease? Is the coral recovering? The biggest patch of elkhorn I've ever seen is on a small patch reef off Key Largo.

    1. Yes they were! The corals we observed were definitely declining. White band disease appeared to be the culprit of most of the decline. It's difficult to determine if the coral was "recovering" or if it could ever recover given the popularity of tourism in the area.