In the Panhandle or 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. Interesting wreck dives lie offshore of Pensacola while offshore Destin there are fabulous rock reefs, the remains of prehistoric shorelines. Off Mexico Beach is the wreck of the Empire Mica, a British tanker sunk in 1942 by a U-boat.
Crystal River is a popular winter home for manatees. It is possible to dive with these slow-moving and gentle sea animals but divers must take care as the manatee is a protected animal in Florida. In the area there are two nice spots for beach diving; Bradenton Beach, is the location of the "Regina", a tanker that sunk in 1940 and was declared an Underwater Archaeological Preserve in 2004 and Venice Public Beach where divers have found prehistoric shark teeth as large as six inches.
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 dive-able springs and sinkholes, several of which must be among the best in the world. Most have large openings allowing easy entry and plenty of room to explore within the natural light.
The eastern shores of 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.
Vero Beach to Jupiter is considered 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”.
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
From Ft. Lauderdale to 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 so Miami is 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.
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”.