much like a long finger pointing into the blue oceanic waters,
many of the best dive sites are within a few short hours drive
from just about anywhere in the state.
You could dive from spots at the top of the Panhandle to the bottom
of the Florida Keys – and every place in between. Here’s
a roundup of the best places to enjoy Florida’s underwater
Best Place to Snorkel: Dry Tortugas National Park
Whether you are a beginner or expert, you’ll agree that
some of the best snorkelling in North America is found on this
coral island some 70 miles west of Key West. Under the massive
ramparts of Fort Jefferson and lying on a carpet of brilliant
white sand is a myriad of colourful tropical fish and living coral.
The shallow waters make this area perfect for first time snorkellers.
You’ll see lots of colourful corals, several varieties of
tropical fish, starfish, queen conchs and much more in this protected
marine sanctuary. A great addition to your snorkel experience
is a side trip to the Windjammer wreck. This 200-foot Schooner
wreck, located just off Loggerhead Key, is home to thousands of
tropical fish and spiny lobster.
Place to See Manatees: Crystal River
This is a sea cow heaven. But leave your spurs behind as only
fins are welcome here. The area is a major Mecca for manatees,
which congregate in herds in the warm waters from November through
April. The gentle creatures can reach an average 10 feet in length
and 1,000 pounds and are a protected and endangered species.
Only snorkelling is allowed in the posted manatee areas and harassing
or chasing them is strictly prohibited. Divers can experience
dozens of freshwater springs that boil from the underground aquifer.
The salty mix of Gulf waters create a marine environment that
is nothing short of spectacular. You are also just as likely to
find tarpon, snapper and redfish as you are to see large mouth
bass and garfish.
Place to Experience Natural Springs: Ginnie Springs
This natural phenomenon is kind of like diving in a big bottle
of spring water. Put a face mask on and you’d swear the
fish are floating in air. The 100-foot-diameter depression, located
on a 200-acre forest setting, is near the town of High Springs.
It features campsites, a country store and bath facilities.
There are nine springs that flow into the tannin-dyed Santa Fe
River, which is an endless source of fun when lazily floating
on tubes above divers exploring the caverns below.
Best Places to Cave Dive: Devil's Den and Blue Grotto
Devil’s Den: Near the small town of Williston,
this fern draped sinkhole offers a unique geological setting and
was actually once thought by early settlers to be the den of hell,
as steam rising from the warm waters in winter does bear resemblance
to its name. Divers know better, as do snorkellers and swimmers
who enter the open steps from this window above to enjoy the underground
basin 60 feet below. The water's depths range just below 50 feet
and the cave system in the deeper area of the basin has been gated
Blue Grotto: Just about a stone’s throw from the
Devil’s Den is the Blue Grotto, the largest clear-water
cavern in the state. Open to divers of all skill levels, the maximum
depth you can reach is 100 feet. A highlight to this site is the
compressed air-supplied bell at 30 feet. You can enter and take
the regulator out of your mouth mid-dive and talk to your buddy.
Place to Dive with Sea Turtles: West Palm Beach
Gulf Stream-powered drift diving is the name of the game. The
fast moving corridor of water brings a unique blend of excellent
visibility, beautiful corals and a rich life source of marine
estuaries that provide a breeding ground for marine life. Drifting
effortlessly over mile after mile of spectacular coral reef and
clouds of fish is like visiting an underwater zoo.
These fishy waters offer the diver more opportunities to interact
with big critters such as sea turtles than just about anywhere
else in the world. During the season between May and September
it is not uncommon to see a dozen or more of these big cruisers
drifting alongside you and your buddy. It is also not uncommon
when keeping your eye to the blue to see a shark or sailfish drift
in; just remember you are on the migratory path of whales and
other oceanic creatures.
Best Place to Find Shark Teeth: Venice
Who would have thought that the beautiful beaches of this town
were the favourite hangout for the toothy prehistoric choppers
many eons ago? The ancient riverbed about a mile off Venice beach
is known as the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.”
For years divers have been grunging in the less than clear water
finding enormous shark teeth. Some can actually bring in a few
hundred dollars. But for most of us, to find a few for a keepsake
pendant is worth the trip alone.
Place to Find Artificial Reefs: Miami / Fort Lauderdale
Just offshore within sight of the haute couture hotels that have
captivated these beaches are a string of wrecks that appear to
mimic the accommodations. In fact, that is exactly what these
wrecks are – fish hotels.
An aggressive artificial reef program has sent dozens of wrecks
to the seafloor, including three retired oil platforms called
Tenneco Towers. The rigs are covered in corals and sponges and
populated with schools of fish. Many of these wrecks are lined
up stern to bow and stretch for miles. Miami's “Wreck Trek”
is a cluster of sites that can be dived in a single tank –
two if you want to see more. Sites include a 65-foot steel tug,
two M60 tanks, the 110-foot Billy's Barge, Ben's Antennae Reef
and dozens of 100-foot plus freighters.
Place to See the Living Reef: Looe Key
Just off of Big Pine Key are the fabulous reefs of Looe Key. This
5.5-square-mile National Marine Sanctuary is a protected underwater
ecosystem. It is an undersea oasis reminiscent of big reef structures
found throughout the Bahamas; and was named after the HMS Looe,
a British Man O’ War that ran aground in 1744.
The wreck no longer exists, but the pristine reefs that lie within
the sanctuary are a living coral system that features a high profile
spur-and-groove coral configuration. The deeper reefs are an impressive
collection of almost every type of sponge and soft coral found
in the Florida Keys.
Place to Explore Big Wrecks: Key Largo
The colourful reefs and mind-numbing profusion of fish in Pennekamp
Park is reason enough to pack up the family wagon and head south.
But if you are looking for some really big wrecks, the 510-foot
Spiegel Grove may be the main attraction. After nearly eight years
of planning and an edge-of-your-seat sinking that had the Grove
floating upside down on national television, the wreck is now
attracting the marine life attention it deserves. Two other great
wrecks not to be missed are the former Coast Guard cutters Bibb
and Duane. Toothy fish like barracuda and oceanic jacks have made
these sites their home base.
Places to Explore Historic Wrecks: Pensacola, Destin and Panama
Pensacola: This military town has not only shaped the
city's commerce, but its dive sites as well. Wrecks include the
500-foot World War I battleship, USS Massachusetts, the Russian
freighter San Pablo, a Navy barge and an A-7 Corsair that fell
off the deck of the carrier USS Lexington. You’ll find Vietnam-era
tanks and various other naval ships. USS Oriskany, a retired aircraft
carrier, is scheduled to become Pensacola’s newest artificial
Destin: Military buffs will find the waters off this
beach town littered with sunken barges, tugs, liberty ships, landing
craft, airplanes, army tanks and bridge rubble populated with
grouper, flounder and cobia.
Panama City: The marine institute has sent ships, Navy
scrap metal, pontoons, towers, bridge spans, tanks, hovercraft
and even a Quonset hut to the bottom of the Gulf since the 1970’s.
Perhaps the most famous wreck is the Empire Mica, a 465-foot British
tanker that was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942. It now rests
in 110 feet of water 20 miles off Cape San Blas.