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Key West Snorkeling Trips : La Tortuga at Rock Key

by Shayne Benowitz

Key West Loggerhead Sea Turtle

It was an ideal summer day on the water as the Pacific Fury sailed out to Rock Key for an afternoon Key West snorkel trip. The water was flat and calm and when I jumped in on lifeguard duty, I was pleased to report 60 feet of stunning visibility. The water temperature was a comfortable 86 degrees and with a calm southeast wind and slack tide, conditions were just perfect. (I was also happy to be sporting my new Sofia by Vix bikini that I bought at the Surf Shack earlier this week—nothing like a new bathing suit!)

Rock Key is a section of the Florida Straits, which is the third largest coral reef system in the entire world. When you head out on Key West Snorkeling Trips with Fury, your captain will chart a course in the direction of one of three sections of the Florida Straits: Sand Key, Eastern Dry Rocks, or Rock Key. Rock Key is probably the least frequented by Fury because when the wind and current pick up there is no protection. This also results in one of the most unspoiled sections of the reef.

The first thing that stood out to me today was how vibrant the coral was. There was an abundance of purple seafans, outcroppings of brain coral, and a variety of star coral. I had a great time freediving to get a closer look at all of the marine life that surrounded our boat. There was a pair of beautiful navy blue triggerfish that had a dash of electric blue where their fluttering fins attached to their bodies. I also spotted a scrawled filefish that had beautiful electric blue streaks, as well. The filefish is distinct because of its narrow nose and large broom-like tail. There were varieties of colorful angelfish, sergeant majors, and as always plenty of yellow tail snappers.

While I was swimming, I heard a woman cry, “La tortuga, la tortuga!” which is Spanish for turtle. In fact, La Tortuga is what Ponce de Leon dubbed a section of the Florida Keys when he discovered them in 1513 because of the abundance of sea turtles. Hoping to make my own great discovery, I immediately swam in the woman’s direction. She pointed beneath her, and there he was, a little loggerhead turtle about the size of your arms if you made a circle. At first, I stayed at the surface and watched him from above. He was floating calmly atop a ledge of coral. Then I decided to dive down and get a closer look. He quickly noticed my approach and began to flap his flippers. He darted about in a semi-circle as if to get away from me, but also to get a look at what was following him. Sea turtles are usually so slow and nonchalant in the water, it’s impressive to see them get a sudden burst of speed.

I was able to keep up with him for some time, but eventually he swam too far away from our boat. I stopped to watch him drift lazily away over a coral canyon of deep water and into the infinite blue of the Atlantic Ocean.

Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer who is working on her debut novel. Shayne can be reached at sbbenowitz@gmail.com.

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