Divers and snorkelers can explore a portion of the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef while rocking to a sub-sea concert during the 30th annual Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival.

Set for Saturday, July 12, the quirky songfest takes place at Looe Key Reef, an area of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary approximately 6 miles south of Big Pine Key. For the past three decades, the event has drawn several hundred divers and snorkelers each year to immerse themselves in the colorful marine environment.

Themed "Diving with the Stars," the marine musical event is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and staged by Keys radio station US1 Radio 104.1 FM. The music is broadcast underwater via Lubell Laboratory speakers suspended beneath boats positioned above the reef.

The concert's playlist typically ranges from humpback whale recordings to ocean-themed songs such as Jimmy Buffett's "Fins," Donovan's "Atlantis" and the Beatles' "Octopus's Garden."

Participants might even spot whimsically costumed divers or "mermaids" tooting their own horns on the ocean floor - pretending to play underwater musical instruments like a trom-bonefish and clambourine sculpted by Florida Keys artist August Powers. They can also glimpse Powers' new "Belushi Blue," a guitar-like fish sporting a hat and shades.

Art and ocean lovers can meet Powers and view his creations, all combining elements of marine life and traditional instruments, during a pre-festival party set for 6-8 p.m. Friday, July 11. The event takes place at Artists in Paradise Gallery in Big Pine Key's Key Deer Shopping Plaza, just off the Overseas Highway at mile marker 30. Cost is $10 per person if reserved by Wednesday, July 9, or $15 per person at the door.

Divers and snorkelers interested in participating in the Underwater Music Festival can reserve space on boats run by Lower Keys dive operators or launch their own boats from public ramps and marinas in the area.

As well as offering unique enjoyment for dive enthusiasts, the festival carries a serious message of reef preservation. The broadcast incorporates diver awareness announcements emphasizing ways to enjoy the reef while minimizing impacts on the underwater environment.

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