The day after our snorkeling excursion to Sombrero Reef, we decided to do some exploring of the middle keys on our own. The first thing we did was go jet skiing in Summerland Key. We went to a nice local jet ski rental and explored the little keys off of Summerland key, speeding around them at 60km an hour in crystal clear water.
The water was so clear and shallow we could see tube corals and seagrass below us. As we drove around we saw Anhingas perched on a large branch in the water. They sat with their wings outstretched drying in the sun. I was out on the water with the birds. Some flew along the water and I rode alongside them, soaring over the water like the birds. We glided free and weightless. I wasn't flying but I was closer to it, keeping pace with the birds, feeling the wind against my face with them.
High overhead I saw frigate birds soaring high with ease. They are master flyers with their long, pointed wings and tails. Apparently, these birds can fly for weeks at a time without landing. The keys are a popular home for these birds, right on the water where they like to fish and soar high above everything.
After jet skiing, we went to a swimming hole called horseshoe off the highway on West Summerland Key. We pulled our snorkel gear out of the trunk and walked a few feet to the swimming hole. It was in the shape of a horseshoe just like its name, mostly enclosed by thin stretches of land on either side.
For the first time, we were going snorkeling by ourselves, just off the shore with no guide, no time limit. The water was shallow at first, less than three feet, but once in the water, we realized there was a quick drop off just a few feet from shore. The middle of the swimming hole was so deep you couldn't see the bottom. We chose to stay in the shallow water on the edge where visibility was the best.
I drifted in the shallow water at first only seeing rocks. Then I saw a few little fish and chased them with my finger. Soon after I saw a slightly larger pinfish. It was silver with wonderful yellow stripes. He was calm and I got very close without scaring him away. In the shallow water, I was closer to the fish than I was on our deeper snorkeling excursions. I could see its individual scales and its big round eye that protruded from his head. His lidless eye shifted back and forth panning the bottom for food. I loved how well I could see it. I hung out with the pinfish for a while before continuing on around the outer edge of the horseshoe.
I continued swimming along the rocks and saw a large rock with tiny corals on it. A pinfish and other small fish swam around I even saw a little yellow and purple one either a basslet or a wrasse. There were less fish than what I had seen at the reefs, but every fish I saw here stood out against the rocks and I marveled at every one. Under the rock was a long spiny sea urchin. It was ink black and threatening. I made sure to keep my distance.
Under the rock was also a stone crab. He was hiding in his little hole in the rock holding out his big round claws in front of him. He was trying to look tough, I thought it was cute. On top of the rock were little round spiky plants or corals that closed up as soon as I moved my hand past them, they reminded me of little carnivorous plants. I had never seen anything like it underwater.
I continued around the horseshoe, taking my time and enjoying every fish along the way. Around the top end of the horseshoe, Allen found a rock with at least three lobsters hiding in it. Then in the very shallow water, I saw a little blue fish with bright yellow fins, possibly a yellow-finned damselfish and a smaller brown fish that followed it back and forth between the rocks. They were a little shyer than the pinfish and preferred to stay near the safety of the rocks.
Even little swimming holes off the side of the road in the Florida Keys have clear water and wonderful creatures to see. It's free and there is no time limit, no stress, just you and the fish. All three snorkeling spots we went to were amazing. The Florida Keys had clearer water than I thought it would, nearly everywhere was excellent visibility where you could see fish and coral below. I can't wait to snorkel again and am thankful for the opportunity to observe these beautiful creatures that we rarely see, to step into their world for a moment and watch them go about their day.