USA: Florida

The southern state of Florida in the United States has more than a thousand miles of coastline. The enormous variety in marine habitats and types of dive sites has made Florida one of the most popular dive destinations for divers around the world for decades. The only natural living coral reef in North America is found offshore of South Florida and the Florida Keys. The state also offers opportunities for shore-entry dives, wreck dives, spear fishing, lobstering, treasure hunting, and snorkeling. Divers can even explore caves and caverns in freshwater springs and lakes.

The northern section of the state is known as the Panhandle. From Pensacola, the land curves around the Gulf of Mexico. This western coastline is called the Gulf Coast. The waters of the Gulf are generally calm and beaches are wide swaths of white sand with miles of dunes in the north. Many small vacation communities dot the beaches.

There are no shore-entry dives in this region, but some interesting wreck dives lie offshore of Pensacola. Offshore of Destin are fabulous rock reefs. These tall limestone walls are the remains of prehistoric shorelines. The numerous crevices are filled with marine life. Off Mexico Beach is the wreck of the Empire Mica, a British tanker sunk in 1942 by a U-boat.

A bit further south is Crystal River which is a popular winter home for manatees. It is possible to dive with these slow-moving and gentle sea animals. Divers must take care as the manatee is a protected animal in Florida.

While there are no coral reefs in this region there are two nice spots for beach diving. Bradenton Beach is the location of Regina (or Sugar Barge), a tanker that sunk in 1940 and was declared an Underwater Archaeological Preserve in 2004. At Venice Public Beach divers have found prehistoric shark teeth as large as six inches while diving off the beach.

The north-central region of Florida is filled with natural springs, sinkholes, rivers and lakes. Within 20 miles of the town of Branford are 30 diveable springs and sinkholes, several of which must surely be among the best in the world. Most have large openings allowing easy entry and plenty of room to explore within the natural light. If you wish to safely proceed into the intertwining passages beyond the natural light, you should receive specialized cave training which is available through dive operators at the springs.

The eastern shores of Florida are known as the Atlantic coast. In the past, the waters off Florida from Jacksonville to Vero Beach were considered a non-diving area. The waters were said to be deep and dark with miles and miles of unbroken seafloor. With the recent advances in Loran-C and GPS technology, anyone willing to brave a 10-mile ride out to sea can experience a breath-taking dive on the wild side. Diving in this region can be unpredictable. The area is filled with large, fast-swimming fish. Divers have spotted cobia, kings, tarpon, and amberjacks. As a diver descends 90 feet to investigate a small ledge or wreck, he or she can expect to encounter 30 pound fish in huge schools, curious barracudas, and maybe even a 300-pound Goliath grouper!

From Vero Beach to Jupiter is the best area for beach diving. A short swim of 75-150 yards will take divers and snorkelers to a rock reef that parallels the shore. In less than 15 feet of water, corals, sponges and tropical fish are easily observed. Boat dives can be made on the natural reefs further offshore. This area is famous for huge spiny lobster that have been called “bull lobster”. Take part in the annual lobster hunts for a chance to catch a lobster weighing ten pounds or more!

The lower Atlantic coast (south of West Palm Beach) is the best dive spot in Florida thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream passing close to shore. The clear water makes for excellent year-round diving, lobstering, and fishing. Near Palm Beach all the reefs are within two miles of land and lie in 30-100 feet of water. The Mizpah is a Greek luxury liner that is still completely intact after more than 20 years underwater. This site is filled with beautiful fish. A nice beach dive can made to a reef of sea fans & coral offshore of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Since the 1980s when more and more divers flocked to the natural reefs of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, efforts have been made to preserve these reefs. In the waters close to shore numerous artificial reefs have been created by sinking steel ships and structures. The Department of Environmental Resource Management’s artificial reef program has made Miami the place to go for wreck diving. The wrecks and reefs are at various depths making many accessible to novice divers as well as advanced divers.

It’s no question that even with all this state has to offer, the jewels of Florida are the Florida Keys. These 31 islands curve gently to the west into the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Reef, the only living coral garden in North America, lies on the edge of the Gulfstream on the Atlantic side of the Keys. Key Largo is home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. In this park over 200 miles of underwater paradise has been protected since 1960. You can dive 16th century treasure galleon wrecks to hunt for coins and artifacts as well as more recent shipwrecks on charters leaving from Marathon in the Middle Keys. After diving the Florida Keys it is easy to understand why the Keys are the “Dive Capital of the World”.

Florida has attracted water sports enthusiasts for years. With such an interesting variety of diving sites, Florida has a divespot to fit every diver.