Florida and the Florida Keys
From freshwater to saltwater, from cave diving to drift diving and with more shipwrecks than many entire countries, the state of Florida, from a diver’s perspective, may just have it all. On the Gulf Coast, along Florida’s western shore, there are beautiful coastal islands, warm waters and a subtropical climate. With artificial reefs, natural dive sites teeming with tropical marine life and wreck dives, it’s a desirable dive spot. Crystal River, about 113 kilometres/70 miles north of Tampa, has both salt and freshwater springs that are known for manatees and it’s the only place in the United States where you can snorkel with these remarkable creatures. Southeast Florida has some of the largest artificial reefs in the country and many of Palm Beach and Broward County’s 60 wrecks are perfect for new divers. The Florida Keys are internationally renowned and are simply breathtaking, they are ideal for all types of divers who will love the living tropical coral reefs and the area’s shipwrecks.
- Gulf Coast – An excellent wreck dive is the Bay Ronto, a 122-metre/400-foot British freighter sunk in 1919. Now sitting at 33 metres/100 feet, it is home to abundant sea life. Siesta Key’s Point of Rocks is a remarkable location that features natural limestone rock formations otherwise known as beach rock.
- Crystal River – Kings Bay is the primary dive area here. This tranquil, spacious bay features a group of fresh water springs that make for fun and exciting diving with caverns, rock formations and a multitude of fish. Manatees the main attraction, can grow up to 4 metres/12 feet long and can weigh more than 680 kilograms/1500 pounds. They take advantage of the warm water in Kings Bay and provide a rare opportunity for people to join them in the water.
- Southeast Coast – The Gulf Stream makes its closest approach to the shoreline along Florida’s southeast coast. Drift diving effortlessly carries you along rows of spectacular coral reefs and clouds of colorful fish. Divers will find a string of wrecks running from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. There are also three former oil platforms called the Tenneco Towers. Sites include a 20-metre/65-foot steel tugboat, two M60 tanks, a 34-metre/110-foot barge, Antennae Reef and a host of large freighters.
- The Keys – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park features 40 living coral species and 650 fish varieties. Off Marathon Key is one of the region’s top dive sites; the 57-metre/188-foot Thunderbolt sits upright in 35 metres/115 feet of water and is home to colorful sponges, corals and hydroids, and Goliath grouper. Close to Looe Key is the 64-metre/210-foot Adolphus Busch – currently the largest wreck in the Lower Keys. The Spiegel Grove is one of the Keys’ most popular wrecks. The 155-metre/510-foot vessel lies in 40 metres/130 feet of water off Key Largo and was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. Don’t miss the nearby wrecks of the former United States Coast Guard cutters Bibb and Duane.
- Cave and Cavern Diving – The central portion of northern Florida is one of the largest and most active cave diving regions in the United States. Known for strong currents and crystal clear waters, there are many springs fed by the North Florida Aquifer that open to a labyrinthine cave system. Ginnie Springs and Peacock Springs – some of the most visited freshwater dive spots in the world – are two places you truly don’t want to miss. The Leon Sinks cave system near Tallahassee is a massive underwater cave system thought to be one of the most extensive in the world.
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Visibility – Generally 10-25 metres/35-80 feet plus in calm conditions. Winter storms can reduce visibility. Some of the springs are “crystal” clear.
Water Temperature – Depending on the area, water temperature can range from 16-27°C/55-80°F – towards the cool end of this range in winter and warmer in summer. Freshwater springs have more constant temperatures between 20°-22°C/68°-72°F.
Weather – Subtropical to tropical with warm humid summers and comfortable winters.
Featured Creatures – Extremely varied and abundant, depending on location. Larger pelagic animals like sea turtles, sharks, sailfish and whales are regularly spotted. Tarpon, snapper, redfish, large mouth bass and garfish populate estuaries. Goliath grouper, hogfish, amberjack, barracuda and lobster live on the wrecks and reefs. The Gulf Coast is home to manatees and sea turtles.
Recommended Training – Take the PADI Deep Diver and PADI Wreck Diver courses for diving on the deeper wrecks. The PADI Drift Diver and PADI Boat Diver courses will help you enjoy diving off Florida’s east coats. The PADI Cavern Diver course is also a good choice for many of the freshwater systems.
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.
Language – English. Spanish is commonly spoken in Southern Florida.
Currency – US dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Major Airports – There are more than a dozen international airports in Florida, but Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa and Key West International Airports will get you closest to prime dive locations.
Electricity and Internet –110-120 volt, 60hz. Internet is widely available.
Topside Attractions – Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum to stroll through the historic Key West home of one of America’s iconic authors. Go to Gatorpark to experience the Everglades National Park by airboat and check out alligator nests, an Indian fish camp and all sorts of wildlife. Stroll down Ocean Boulevard in South Beach Miami and check out the sleek architecture or head out on the town when the sun goes down. Of course, Florida is also home to many major theme parks.