South Florida students to create map of Looe Key reef

Equipped with floating GPS units, side scan sonar and waterproof paper, college students dove 25 feet down into an underwater classroom with a pioneering assignment: create a three-dimensional, interactive map of a reef.

When completed, the map will show both the contour and biological life on Looe Key reef, considered one of the most beautiful dive sites in the world.

"It's the first time this type of project has been done in the Keys," said Patrick Rice, director of marine sciences at the Florida Keys Community College.

Just as a tourist map of Key West marks Ernest Hemingway's House and the Southernmost Point, the portion of Looe Key mapped by Rice's class will highlight points of interest such as spectacular coral head formations and known hangouts for Goliath grouper and other territorial sea creatures.

"A lot of divers do underwater photography," said Lucja Jakuvowska, a student from Poland. "So if they come and can do only one dive on a certain dive site, they can just look at the map and go, 'Oh, I want to see this, this, this and this.'"

The 3D underwater maps also will provide valuable baseline data for marine researchers, Rice said.

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