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The Blue Hole: Big Pine Key

March 27, 2011

Big Pine’s own  “Blue Hole”  is the best place in the lower Keys to see American alligators. Originally dug out for road bed material during the 30’s and 40’s, an old quarry in the Key Deer Refuge called “Blue Hole” contains a lens of freshwater floating on top of heavier salt water. Hundreds of birds, turtles, and freshwater fish occupy or visit the Blue Hole. In October of 2005, storm surge from Hurricane Wilma introduced a number of marine fish to the quarry, namely tarpon, barracuda and mojarra. Biologists are impressed and surprised at how many of them have survived so long.

Big Pine is also the best place within a hundred miles to see Florida’s most emblematic reptiles: American alligators, which are a rarity in the lower Keys. The Hole’s resident American alligators are frequently spotted from the Blue Hole’s viewing platforms. Currently, two ‘gators inhabit the quarry.  The resident female is small at just over 5 feet long, and she appears half-tame, usually hanging out right under the viewing platform, creating photo-ops: obviously, people have been feeding her though it is illegal. According to the signs, there is also a 7 foot long male which showed up to court the young female, and stayed. He is not sighted often.

The Blue Hole almost seems more like a zoo than a wildlife preserve. Due to the tiny size of the preserve and the fact that these are the only ‘gators around,  these animals and their habits are well-known to locals. The Blue Hole’s resident female  was brought in by Florida Fish and Wildlife in 2008 after a 9 foot long male called “Bacardi” died from ingesting a plastic toy turtle. His mate, “Cola,” was killed by poachers in 2006.

Unlike the owner of the deadly toy turtle, which we may presume was dropped in the water accidentally, the poachers were caught bragging about their conquest on Facebook. Someone turned them in, leading to their arrest and felony convictions. Attorneys for the young men responsible tried to offer up the “good ol’ boy defense:” This is Florida, after all, where fishin’ and huntin’ is a way of life! But the public was outraged. Not that the Florida Keys is particularly animal-welfare-oriented or pro-environment–but these particular ‘gators are vital to the local economy, drawing hundreds of visitors to Big Pine each year.

“Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread.”  —John Muir, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf

To find the Blue Hole, simply turn onto Key Deer Boulevard from U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 30.5, Bayside, then follow the signs. The Blue Hole is about two and a half miles down. There is no admission fee.

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To learn more about the lower Florida Keys, consider purchasing the brand-new 3rd edition of my guide:  Key West: A Comprehensive Guide to Florida’s Southernmost City.

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