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Annual Underwater Music Festival Slated for Next Weekend

By Josie Koler, DiverWire.com Florida Keys correspondent and Keys Weekly bureau chief

Call your friends and start planning your Lower Keys Raft-up! This year’s underwater music festival is going to be a spectacular showing of the Florida Keys’ clear water to the world. Just follow the Weekly Newspapers and Divers Direct down the rabbit hole for a sneak peak into the show in store for 2010!

 

“I have a very active troop of divers who have lots and lots of ideas!” says Carole Stevens, executive director of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce. The group is sinking a mermaid into the waters of Looe Key Reef this year for the media frenzy that is captivates crowds year after year for nearly 30 years. Samantha Langsdale, the mermaid for this year’s show came up with the idea of Alice in Waterland. A clever cast of characters is going to be floating around the coral with her. The Chesire Catfish, Mad Haddock, White Rabbit Fish,  and Red Angel Queen of Hearts. 104.1’s Bill Becker will provide the beats.

“He always picks The Beatles, Jimmy Buffet, he plays whale songs, and classical tunes,” offers Stevens. This year as we close in on month three of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the light-hearted tune Stevens is usually poised to pose to the world of divers, potential divers, families, tourists, and anyone with money to spend in the Keys, is suddenly serious.

The crucial message must be relayed, “we’re not affected by the oil and may never be. This event will show people we are frolicking here at Looe Key because there isn’t any oil. We will be sending the message around the world for everyone to see we’re not surrounded in oil. This event is immeasurable. People call us from Japan, Europe, you name the country,” Carole solidifies.

There are four major dive shops located in the Lower Keys who will be taking full boats out the day of the festival; Strike Zone Charters, Innerspace Dive Center, Bahia Honda Coral Reef Park, and Looe Key Dive Center.  Don Downing has been managing the Dive Shop for three years, he attests every day he receives calls of people asking about the oil, uncertain whether they should make reservations for one or two months out.

“This is an evolving issue. Until, they stop the flow its going to be ever-changing,” he says. “Right now it hasn’t reached us and we tell everyone we have a refund policy, They can cancel without any penalties. People have been making reservations since June saying they want to dive the Keys now.”

Downs does say his books usually read, “full” for the Underwater Music Festival at this juncture of the planning stages. Right now he has about half of a boat with 20 open spots. Regardless, when the time comes to plunge in with the chamber, media, Samantha the mermaid and cast of characters, the dive will be unforgettable. Looe Key Reef is part of the second largest barrier reef system in the world. Located at Buoy #12 this is a shallow dive for beginners, less than 30’ deep.

The coral is federally protected and boasts of species not seen in other systems, Staghorn and Elkhorn. Extinct in other parts of the world, Looe Key Reef has a nice field of them. As for the wildlife, the reef is home to a behemoth, to say the least. A Goliath Grouper which weighs around 450 pounds!

Also abundant are Parrotfish, Yellowtail, lobster, crab, shrimp, and sharks. Nurse and Caribbean Nurse Sharks are often spotted cruising at shallow depths in and out of the hard and soft corals. The HMS Looe ran aground the reef and wrecked in —-. During low tide she is sticks up above the water.

The depths are ideal for people who aren’t even certified to SCUBA dive. There’s a sweet piece gear for ocean adventure fun-for the whole family. The Brownie Explorer 390 and Brownie Explorer 280. This acts as a third lung for recreational swimmers of any age. The 390 comes with four regulators, the 280 with two.

“Those are pretty cool,” says Kelly Rabe, general manager with Divers Direct. “The Brownie is a neat piece of gear for lobster diving, any shallow water diving, and especially for families looking to be together in the water. You can enjoy the water all at once, and stay in the same area.”
Perfect for the Underwater Music Festival if you have a boat, but not your PADI cards. Once you have the Brownie just add hoses and regulators to accommodate the number of friends of families in your group.

Regardless of how you choose to view the spectacle, Lower Keys diver shops are preparing for last minute bookings. Lori Gregory, a customer service representative for Innerspace knows a couple from Orlando will be joining them, and they have extra boats ready to go to accommodate others wanting to flee the “magic of the mainland,” to experience the other fantasy in Florida. Across US 1 at Strike Zone Charters, co-owner Gayle Tippett is crossing her fingers for calm seas. She is used to the routine. She has two large Catamarans she’ll be able to fit close to 100 divers onboard.

“We have always done this event. It’s the big annual event for us. The reservations start about a week out, which means, right about now. We’ve been very fortunate yet not to be affected by the oil, and are hoping for a flawless day.”

Flawless, festive, fun, and focused on the natural beauty of Looe Key Reef.  The area attracts such immense media coverage to the Big Pine area Stevens says herself, and Harold Wheeler with the Monroe County Toursim Development Council are psyched to showcase the oil-free, lucid water to the world through their “afishionados!” Don’t forget your camera, the one essential you’re going to want underwater with you.  “You’re going to want to take a lot of pictures,” Rabe again offers her expertise. “We have tons of options in stock!”

Alice in Waterland is slated for Saturday, July 10, 2010. For information about dive charters and accommodations in the Lower Florida Keys, call the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce at 800-872-3722 or 305-872-2411, or visit fla-keys.com or lowerkeyschamber.com.

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