Having lived in 13 states, I can’t help but feel like a perpetual visitor/sightseer with each move – which by the way, is totally awesome! With each move, we would purchase tourist guide books, collect pamphlets and speak with all of our neighbors about the local haunts, landmarks and cool places to visit. Of all the places we have lived, Florida, of course, is a dessert buffet of every kind of activity imaginable.
So when my family and I moved to Florida, we set our sights on diving. Florida diving is like an amusement theme park – the selection is not only vast, but there is something for everyone, for all ages, skills, and interests. Here are a few places we have learned to love:
The Gulf Coast
Some divers may overlook West Coast diving but they are missing out! It’s true, the Gulf is flat, shallow and we don’t have a Gulf Stream to clean up some of the murky waters but those disadvantages lead to our greatest advantage – SPEARFISHING – whether on scuba or freediving! Since the Gulf is relatively shallow, we have ledges and areas of hard bottom surrounding us, previously remnants of eons of the changing Florida coastlines. This means we are more spread out and not just on specific reefs that can get overcrowded and overfished. Boat captains work hard obtaining their numbers and carefully rotate to not overfish certain locations. The Gulf Coast is a spearfisherman’s dream.
When Florida isn’t Spearfishing, there are plenty of local artificial reefs including the Sheridan, Rube Allyn, Mohawk, and Veteran’s Reef, to name just a few, and hundreds of natural sites to explore. Gulf Coast diving is all about going slow and steady to enjoy the numerous and diverse aquatic life. From Goliaths, to spade fish, to toad fish, “it’s a lot like going to a museum,” says Captain Ryan from Tanks-A-Lot. “You don’t run through a museum, you go slowly through all of the rooms and read the placards. It’s my meditation.”
We highly recommend 2Shea Charters for spearfishing, fishing and diving and Tanks-a-Lot Dive Charters for recreational diving. PADI continuing education courses to think about for the Gulf include Wreck Diver, Fish Identification, Shark Conservation, Advanced Course, Nitrox Course, and more Contact Adventure Outfitters for more information about your education.
Springs, Cavern and Cave Diving
Florida is home to the largest aquifer system in the world. More than 700 springs are known in Florida. The Springs are fantastic for snorkelers, freedivers and open water divers. Crystal clear water highlights the vast fish and aquatic life. Caverns open up a new world for cavern divers and miles of cave passages populate Florida’s underground. From Devil’s Den, Paradise Springs and Ginnie Springs, snorkelers and cave divers will never run out of clear water to explore. Don’t forget Rainbow River and Crystal River either. Nothing is more refreshing than an effortless drift dive down the river watching cormorants nose-diving for fish or Florida Cooter turtles scurrying to their next destination. Snorkeling with Florida’s beloved manatees are something every local and tourist needs to do once in their lifetime. Some of the courses recommended or required for the springs, caverns and caves include drift diver, cavern diver, deep diver, cave courses, technical courses and more!
What’s better than the time-honored, family-friendly tradition of scalloping in Homosassa? Or visiting the manatees at Three Sisters? Make sure your snorkeling gear is in good condition and you might want to consider a neoprene strap for your mask for easy on and off.
Fossil Diving and Shore Diving
I will never promise 50-foot visibility but finding a large megalodon around the “Bone Yard” with a charter or off the shore at Venice Beach is peaceful and fun. An artificial reef runs parallel to the beach, about 300 feet out creating a big wind-breaker, along with concrete blocks that have soft coral growth on them. While looking for teeth you will see flounder, baby bat fish, snook, and an occasional manatee or barracuda. In order to have a nice 90-minute-to-two-hour dive on one tank of air, it’s important to have good buoyancy. Think about taking a peak performance buoyancy course before your next fossil dive.
East Coast Diving
Here in Florida, we have our very own Caribbean – from Jupiter, Riviera Beach and West Palm to Key Largo and Key West. The dive sites are endless and they can take you years to visit them all including drift dives, wreck dives, reef dives, spearfishing, lobstering and more! One of our most special dive sites for photography is Blue Heron Bridge. Nowhere in the Eastern United States is there such aquatic diversity in such a small space – including sea horses, jaw fish, frog fish to parrot and file fish! Just don’t forget to go diving a half an hour prior to high tide as well as your camera and flag float.
Florida is known for its explorers including Ponce de León in 1513 who made his first records. Have an adventure today! and continue your dive education by signing up for your next dive course or one of our local upcoming trips and discover a new part of Florida!