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Diving Central Florida - USA

Article and photos by René C. Schutte

October 2007

Ever wondered how the diving is in the state of Florida, USA? Well, if you ever do get a chance to go out there, then rest assured there is enough to do in terms of blowing bubbles, and it's most defintely worth it!

Recently visiting Disney World, attending an IT conference and wanting to do a bit more than saying "hi" to Mickey, I was very interested to see what the diving in Central Florida had to offer.

Florida is a State with an East Coast (Atlantic) and a West Coast (Gulf of Mexico) and quite tropical. Also, there is very little in the sense of mountains; even the inland dives are done at sea level!

Diving the Fresh Water Springs - "Blue Grotto"
In the interior parts of Central Florida, in between the two coastal regions, you would find a number of fresh water springs, such a little place called Blue Grotto and and another popular site is Devils Den. These two dive sites are only two of many of the fresh water springs you would find here lead which also lead into cave systems that can be very extensive.

Blue Grotto though is more like Mariko Oog here in South Africa, and no serious caves around here. Bigger than Mariko Oog, and with a max depth of 30m it's a gem of a dive site. Set amongst the lush green trees with hanging moss common in Florida, one feels that you've really stepped onto unspoiled paradise. In fact, the waters from this spring is bottled and sold in the shops in Florida to give you an idea how clean it is.

About a 1.5 hour drive from Orlando (Disney World) Blue Grotto has good picnic facilities and is a popular dive location for local divers as well. Get there early, to avoid the potential disappointment of someone kicking up the viz. I was very lucky to have had an excellent guide and dive buddy in the form of Instructor Joe from ScubaOdessy. We managed to squeeze in two 60 minute dives, with lots of photo opportunities, and ultimately a very successful daytrip.

Snorkel with Manatees at Crystal Springs Anyone?
Another great day trip I squeezed in was with a dive charter (Birds Underwater) in the picturesque town of Crystal Springs.

Picturesque Crystal Springs Canal

Crystal Springs is situated about two hours drive towards the West Coast of Florida looking out onto the Gulf of Mexico and is surrounded by fresh water springs that meet up with the ocean tides in dozens of little river systems. These canals are home to numerous friendly Manatees that feed of the lush underwater flora that grow here.

A Playful Manatee

Manatees are a type of sea cow that reminds me of a cross between a walrus, and a hippopotamus. A strange, gentle and solitary animal that easily grows to over 500kg (1000 pounds) they can be quite playful in the water and it is common for divers and snorkelers to interact with these graceful underwater mammals. There are of course as expected strict rules of conduct that must be adhered to and a compulsory introductory DVD that all divers must watch prior to particpation.

Gator Snapper Turtle

Aside from the manatees which are a real treat and the highlight of this trip, there are some beautiful pristine fresh water inlets one can visit on the same excursion, and you are likely to see some fresh water Swimming Crabs and if your lucky, even a Alligator Snapper Turtle and a Fresh water Flounder (Sole).

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Getting up close to Palm Beach
Lastly we move towards the East Coast of Central Florida on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, there are lots of areas for shore entry diving with divers still finding artifacts, such as pottery and metal objects from Spanish ships that sunk off this coast a few hundred years ago.

Joe, around the sunken sail boat

The diving conditions along this eastern Florida coast line can be subject to tropical systems (hurricanes) and I would suggest you pick your dates to visit accordingly. You can liaise with Joe.

 Nonetheless the further south you go from Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Finally Palm Beach you are still in a 2.5 hour drive from Orlando, and therefore a decent day trip.

Scrawled Filefish

At Palm beach, as I discovered, again with the help of my new found dive buddy, Joe, you are practically assured of a decent dive at Palm Beach Yact club and bridge. The columns of the bridge has become home to a surprising number of fascinating sea life, along with whatever the seas and currents bring towards this lagoon on a given day.

Guilded Pipe Fish (ain't it tiiiiiny against Joe's index finger?) :-)))

We spotted the usual Snapper, Butterflyfish, Raggy Scorpion, and a Blue Spotted Ray.

The dive is especially long due to the average depth being only 5m. This meant we were able to take great pictures with the abundant light and clock an amazing hundred minute dive! Another real advantage here was there was no concern over no-flying time :-)

Spider Crab (Arrow Crab)

Then there were the alien looking spider crabs, along with the little pipe fish and all the other animals that made this a most worth while trip, and a pleasant all round adventure.

So that would seem to confirm that if you ever find yourself in the State of Florida for whatever reason, and you wanted to do some great diving without spending an arm and a leg, or traveling beyond the Central Florida area, you have a number of great options to choose from.

You are welcome to send comments to Rene@scubaversity.co.za


Orange Fire Worm

Moon Jelly

Common Helmet Gurnard

Swimming Crab (Portunus pelagicus)

Angel Fish