Snorkeling in the Florida Keys

Outdoor Edventures spent spring break snorkeling, swimming and soaking up the sun in the Florida Keys from March 15 to March 23.

The group of students set up a base camp in Key Largo and spent the first two days exploring the waters of the upper keys on two rented boats.

Before embarking on the trip, Mike Piekenbrock, the recreational activities coordinator, said where they take the boats and what they do on them will be up to the group to decide.

“We could go on the gulf side and do some island hopping; there are thousands of small uninhabited islands in the keys.  Or we could take it ocean side and do some snorkeling on one of the many patch reefs,” Piekenbrock said.

Photo by Joe Zawacki

Photo by Joe Zawacki

Piekenbrock mentioned that they could even catch some lobster and grill lobster tails for lunch.

From there, the group planned on visiting John Pennekamp State Park, which is the country’s only underwater state park.

“We will be taking a guided snorkeling trip,” Piekenbrock said. “There is a very famous statue there called “Christ of the Deep” that we hope to be able to dive on.”

Joseph Zawacki, a student majoring in biology, has gone snorkeling in both Hawaii and the Keys.

“I love the ocean so I’m excited to explore the reefs and get some dives in,” Zawacki said. “I’m also a biology major, so I’m definitely interested in the biology of the reefs, which makes the trip that much more interesting.”

On the final day, the group traveled to Bahia Honda State Park for another guided snorkel tour.

“There we will have the opportunity to go out to Looe Key, the third most dived reef in the world, ranging in depth from 2 feet out to 40 feet,” Piekenbrock said. “Once we are back ashore we will enjoy Bahia Honda, which has the largest white sand beach in the Keys.”

Zawacki has been fortunate enough to have seen reefs in person and thinks that in the Midwest we miss out on the diversity of underwater environments, at least to the degree that reefs possess.

“I am hoping to see some sharks while out snorkeling, I have seen only one so far and would really like the opportunity to see more,” Zawacki said.  “It is a nice friendly reminder that sometimes we as humans are not the biggest fish in the sea, so to speak.”

Piekenbrock said that it is tough to pick just one thing that he is looking forward to with this trip.

“The Keys are a very special place to me.  When I was an undergrad I spent my summers as a guide in the Keys and I fell in love with them,” Piekenbrock said. “It sounds silly, but I am really looking forward to the smell of the ocean and the gritty feeling of salt on my skin at the end of the day.”

Outdoor Edventures has offered spring break trips ever since Piekenbrock was hired three years ago.

“The first was a canyoneering trip to Zion National Park in Southern Utah,” Piekenbrock said. “And last year we did a surfing trip to Tybee Island on the Georgia coast.”

Zawacki has been on several Outdoor Edventure trips in the past few years, ranging from rock climbing in Arkansas to ice climbing in Iowa.

“Everyone that goes on these trips are awesome individuals,” Zawack said. “I usually sign up alone and end up making great friends throughout the trip, although a 20 plus hour car ride tends to leave you little option than to get to know everyone.”

Piekenbrock believes that travel broadens the mind and makes better citizens of the world.

“Just one trip can change the way you see the world or the way you see yourself as a part of it,” Piekenbrock said. “I am sure most students have heard about the reefs and how we need to protect them.  It is one thing to read about them in a book or see a TV show, it is another thing entirely to swim among them.”

Piekenbrock thinks that the students going on this trip will gain perspective and an appreciation of the underwater world and hopefully become advocates for it.

“They will bring back new snorkeling skills and techniques, and perhaps these skills will blossom into a new hobby like scuba diving,” Piekenbrock said. “The benefits of a trip are unique to the individual but exploration and curiosity are benefits unto themselves for a true adventurer.”

Zawacki agrees, saying that travel can make you appreciate new places, activities or people, almost as much as it makes you appreciate everything you have back home.

“I think even the hardiest Wisconsinite would agree this winter has been a brutal one, so I am most definitely looking forward to the warm weather the Florida Keys will bring,” Zawacki said. “I am also excited to snorkel, explore the islands, and get to know some fellow Pointers.  It should be an excellent trip.”


Rachel Pukall


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