I love planning trips. I search the internet and use a few specific apps, but nothing beats sitting down with a book to begin imagining and shaping an itinerary. I’ve read countless travel guides and Brad Bertelli’s Snorkeling the Florida Keys is my new favorite. Published by the University Press of Florida, it is the perfect union of history, nature, and logistics, complete with an enthusiastic tour guide.
The book covers Biscayne National Park, Carysfort Reef, John D. Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Molasses Reef, Pickles Reef, Alligator Reef, Indian Key, Coffins Patch Reef, Sombrero Reef, Bahia Honda State Park, Looe Key, Key West Marine Park, and Dry Tortugas National Park. I’ve snorkeled along the Keys, from Pennekamp to Sand Key Light, and this book gave me so many new places to try. I learned that I’ve snorkeled beaches that had better, hidden sports. Bertelli describes not just the reef locations and structures, but the history behind their names (many are named for shipwrecks). I came for the travel tips, but stayed for the history lessons. For example, I have known the name John Pennekamp since I was a child, but what I didn’t know was that he was personally responsible for protecting huge swaths of Florida’s coral reefs.
There were two sections in particular that endeared me:
“In reality, the reef had been known as Pickle’s Reef for a long time before the barrels ever came to rest at the bottom. In fact, Pickles Reef began to appear in the record books as early as 1828, decades before the first shots of the Civil War were ever fired. The odds must have been astronomical that a load of mortar-filled pickle barrels would sink at a reef already known as Pickles Reef!” It is that kind of geeky enthusiasm that gets me every time.
The second section has Bertelli trashing Peter Benchley and the movie Jaws. “To put the whole shark scare into perspective, statistically speaking it is a far more dangerous proposition to drive a car – for any distance – than to snorkel in Florida waters. In fact, snorkelers are much more likely to be mauled by a dog, swarmed by bees, or win the lottery than have a negative encounter with a shark.
Instead of worrying about sharks, snorkelers would be much better off making sure they have applied a suitable sunscreen to their exposed flesh. While shark attacks are rare events in the Florida Keys, horrible sunburns are not.” He then goes on to warn people about the real bullies of the sea, the wee damselfish. I love this guy.
I plan to use this guide to check out several spots that are accessible from the shoreline, as well as one chartered trip. Whether you are new to snorkeling the Florida Keys or are an old-timer, this book should be essential reading.