Scuba divers are collectors. We are driven to discover rare underwater experiences. It can be a pristine, rarely trafficked reef or the holy grail of critters. We keep checklists both virtual and real. The search takes us around the world chasing the elusive. We have been diving for 14 years and are beginning to struggle with the drive for new. It is probably time to circle back to some of our favorites. South Florida is my first stop.
The exact boundaries of “South Florida” are defined slightly differently by everyone, but for this discussion I will call it Jupiter in the north to Key West in the south. We used South Florida as a training ground when we were new divers. It was easy to get to from Wisconsin, warm, waters relatively calm and English the primary language. Another great thing about South Florida is the sites are fairly close to shore, requiring short boat rides (important for my seasick buddy).
So starting north and working our way south, let’s Go Learn Things about Scuba diving South Florida…
Jupiter sits at the mouth of the Loxahatchee River and offers open ocean and tidal river adventures. You can kayak along the river spotting manatees and herons. For more adrenaline pumping, you can brave the wild, Jupiter Inlet with Emerald Charters. They will take you out to open water where you will find a healthy shark community.
Emerald Charters is upfront on its website, stating these are dives for experienced divers. For the safety of divers and sharks they are strict about your equipment and diving ability. All of that comes across a little intimidating and as I have mentioned before, shark diving is not for everyone. If it is your thing this is the group and the spot in South Florida for you. They do a controlled chum and the divers sit in the sand watching a ballet of Bulls, Tigers, Hammerheads and Black Tip Reef sharks.
Even if you are not up to the shark diving, Jupiter is a perfect spot to visit. Dry land activities offer amazing golf course, expansive parks, beaches and trails. Up the hill on the north side of the river the Jupiter Lighthouse stands guard. It is open to tour and climb to the top, but the hours are limited so be sure to check online before your visit. The lighthouse grounds are beautiful and the view from on top is glorious. The last time we were there we took the sunset/ moonrise tour, which was a wonderful as you would expect.
Blue Heron Bridge
The Blue Heron Bridge spans across the intercoastal waters leading out to the barrier island, Singer Island. Blue Heron Blvd runs directly east through the town of Rivera Beach. We had stayed out on Singer Island many times before we discovered diving the Bridge. This is a world renowned site for muck diving. Now I know that does not sound especially appealing, but bear with me.
Muck diving is most often used in reference to diving in Indonesia’s post volcanic silt bottom regions. Ideally the “muck” is on the bottom and not effecting the visibility. That silty bottom is a playground for weird critters, especially “masters of disguise”. In the case of Blue Heron the silt is a factor of the tidal waters and man’s carelessness.
Because of the flow of the tides in and out of the intercoastal waters, there is a small window of ideal visibility at high tide. Therefore, you need to consult a tides chart. This sounds complicated but all the local dive operators know exactly when you can go. It is a short dive, about 40 minutes and you will know as soon as the high tide starts to shift because visibility dramatically drops. You cannot have your car in the parking lot before or after daylight. This is a drag because the night critters are spectacular under the bridge. That being said, you need to be sure you plan your trip when the high tides are after sunrise or before sunset.
Under the bridge sits Phil Foster Park, which has a large parking lot, small beach/swim area and the entry spot for divers. The actual diving is easy, you walk down the beach into the water and swim towards the east end of the bridge. Total depth is only about 15 feet and you just swim back and forth around the columns of the bridge. There is a small fishing boat wreck, a couple of shopping carts and various debris laying on the bottom, all of which have become home to octopus, stingrays, seahorses, and some of the oddest looking fish you will ever see.
This is one of the most unusual dives you will ever do, fellow divers around the world will be jealous you have done The Blue Heron Bridge!
For the divers looking for an easy drift dive along a coral reef, the Breakers Reef running for 2 miles in front of the iconic Breakers Hotel is perfect. The gulf stream comes closest to the US mainland in front of Palm Beach, FL. It creates warm currents and plenty of wildlife. You drift along enjoying large coral formations, colorful fish, inquisitive turtles and yummy lobsters. This spot is popular for new divers to complete their certifications or take the next level of Advanced certification.
West Palm Beach is full of shopping, trendy restaurants, art galleries and water taxis. Across the intercoastal waters sits the very upscale Palm Beach. There you can tour the mansion of railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, hobnob at the Breakers Hotel and mingle with the “rich and famous” on Worth Ave.
The 23 miles between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Beach are packed with artificial reefs and ship wreck sites. This tract is a favorite destinations for divers working on their Deep Diving and Wreck Diving specialties. Sometimes an underwater structure, whether man-made or natural formation, is just as interesting to dive as a colorful reef.
One of the well known sites is Tenneco Towers. The Tenneco Towers were a decommissioned deep sea drilling platform for Tenneco Oil Company. They were sunk in 1985 to create an artificial reef, between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. The platform was broken into five pieces and spread out toward the east in progressively deeper water. Three of the five lay within recreational diving depths. These are unique wreck structures providing nice wildlife sightings, structure exploration and controlled deep diving.
As we work our way south the reef starts to break apart and wreck diving dominates the scene. Key West is known for its nightlife more than diving. However, within an easy boat ride lays the second largest scuttled ship in North America. The USS Vandenberg served many bosses over its lifetime, finally coming to rest on the bottom of the Atlantic within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in May of 2009. It is a big wreck, 520 feet long and 100 feet tall, with tons of structure to explore. When we dove this wreck we spent three days diving different segments of the ship. There can be significant currents and it can be tricky to ascend on the correct mooring line. Therefore, I would not recommend this dive for beginners. For experienced divers who enjoy wrecks this is a tremendous playground.
South Florida has plenty of dive sites for everyone from beginners to veteran divers. The region has beautiful beaches, miles of coastline and waterways, shopping, dining, and world class diving. Plan your next dive itinerary in South Florida!