There are some things in life that worm their way into your heart, and start pulling heartstrings you didn’t even know existed. Sea Turtles, and especially baby sea turtles are one of these things for me. I didn’t really know much about the life cycle of turtles, what the biological reasons they were disappearing were – nor that a major issue was a threat to the nesting grounds. After visiting the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, and Gumbo Limbo, these educational facilities set the stage to saving sea turtles with the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP) in Fort Lauderdale Florida.
Different Types of Sea Turtles
There are several different types of Sea Turtles, some more endangered than others. There is the Loggerhead, Leatherback, Greenback, Hawksbill, and the very rare Kemp’s Ridley.
The most common type of Sea Turtle along the Florida Coastline is the Loggerhead Sea turtle. The main diet of this type of sea turtle is shellfish, they love the Conch shells. It is listed as a threatened species, due to the major coastal developments, coastal fishing, and pollution (both chemical and garbage).
The Less common is the Green Sea Turtle, likely because it is now listed as endangered. These eat mainly seagrass, seaweed, and algae. For the same reasons that the loggerhead sea turtle is endangered, so is this one.
The Leatherback Sea Turtle is considered a vulnerable species as its population is currently decreasing. It feeds primarily on Jellyfish, can weight up to 550 – 1,500 lbs! As a Scuba Diver, Jellyfish are not my friends, so I want to really see these Leatherback Sea Turtles flourish!
The incubation time for the Green and Loggerhead Turtle eggs is around 45-55 days, while the Leatherback Sea Turtle eggs can reach up to 70-90 days.
The Turtle Nesting Season
While visiting STOP I learned that each type of turtle has different times it likes to nest, and each female can lay multiple nests in a season with multiple different male partners. The Leatherback lays her eggs primarily in March to June, the Loggerhead from May to August, and the Green Turtle from June to September.
I happened to join Richard and his team at STOP near the end of June. We learned that each nest has about a 51-day gestational period, and there was one nest that was on day 54. I couldn’t stop smiling, I was taking part or at the very least contributing to spreading knowledge about these wonderful animals, and may just be able to see them be born. Being able to help in a small way to saving sea turtles is a pretty incredible responsibility.
The Perfect Conditions
When a female sea turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs there are a few things she looks for. She will typically come when the moon is full or nearly full, when it is high tide, and the waves are just right.
When the ocean conditions are right, the turtle then has to feel as if she is coming home. They are, in general, very shy creatures, and spook easily. If there are parties every night on the beaches, flashlights, Iphones, loud music, then the female won’t lay her eggs and will wait.
If you were coming to a hospital to give birth and your doctor was drinking alcohol, your husband was blasting Metallica in your ear, and the Nurse was snapping selfies. You wouldn’t want to give birth either or would give the entire room an earful about ruining the moment. It is the same idea with turtles if there is too much noise, fires, flashing lights, or large groups of people near the shore – it won’t come to shore. Eventually, it will just dump the eggs into the ocean, losing the precious and endangered cargo.
If she does come ashore, imagine dragging your pregnant body 300 yards, weighing 450-1000 lbs using only walking sticks to do it. It is dark, if there are sandcastles, holes dug in the sand, beach chairs, or anything that they can get stuck under – this kills the mama sea turtles folks.
Saving Sea Turtles, and the Mama
Richard told us about how people on the beach dig holes, and a turtle came up, laid her eggs, and on her way back to shore, fell into a hole dug into the sand, breaking her neck and killing her.
He also told us there was a mama turtle that came ashore the night before I arrived. She became stuck under a stack of beach chairs. The hotels along Fort Lauderdale Beach rammed metal poles into the ground, chained the beach chairs – and thought to leave them on their side was ‘good enough’. Well, the turtle made her way up the beach, got stuck under a stack of chairs, the chain wrapped around her neck. Luckily STOP was there to rescue her or she would have died. They were able to calm her enough for him to go and ask the hotel for a key to unlock the beach chairs and free her. The night crew didn’t know where it was, so he used a chain cutter and let the turtle free.
What the most amazing part of this story was, is that the turtle ended up laying her eggs anyway! Despite all of the trauma from getting stuck and nearly being suffocated to death. I think, in a way, she knew Richard and his team were there trying to do whatever they could to help her.
Location of the Nests
Did you know that turtles are able to map out beaches based on magnets? They are able to navigate their way back to the same beach where they were born from to lay their own eggs!
There are many facets that go into making a beach feel like a good nesting ground; that turtles will return to over and over again.
What scientists have observed, is that the turtles will go and seek dark objects to lay their eggs under. The temperature of the nest determines the gender of the baby turtles. Nests than incubate below 81.86F (27.7C) then they will be male. Nests that incubate at 87.8F (31C).
The turtles who are born from warm nests, end up being much slower swimmers, they can’t make it past the break line of waves. Gumbo Limbo and the Loggerhead Marine life center help to rehab these baby turtles so that they can make it out in the ocean. They do this by tying tethers to the baby turtles who then, when strong enough, are released back into the wild.
The problem that is being faced with warmer nests, especially in places like Australia, is that only females are being born. Australia has one of the largest Green Sea Turtle populations, but 99% of the turtles being born are female. There needs to be enough genetic diversity within a species so that deformities and susceptibility to disease are less likely.
There are certain measures Australia is implementing to help more males being born. They are using artificial shade over the nest or spraying artificial rain to cool the temperature of the nests. There is a lot of fear, that when the people who are implementing these measures leave. What if Administration positions change, then funding could be lost and these measures will stop – this could cause this species of turtles to become extinct.
Barriers for Sea Turtles on the Beaches
When the mothers seek the shade, they often encounter barriers. Things like large sandcastles can appear as adequate shade, umbrellas or life guardhouses. Other barriers for turtles that are commonly found on beaches are cabanas, umbrellas, Hobie cats, canoes, small boats, and beach cycles.
Some beaches even rake their sand, to create a nice flat beach. This creates a ledge at the end of the beach that the mothers are unable to get up over because the tide bites at the edge of the beach over and over again.
The mothers think they have gone far enough, and end up laying their eggs right in the grip of the tide line. These nests have to then be dug up, replanted in an area that is safely away from the tide so that the eggs don’t suffocate in the water before they hatch.
Predators on the Beach
Then there are new invasive species onto the beaches because of increased housing developments. Pet dogs and cats eat the eggs and hatchlings and even attack nesting turtles.
Those that leave trash behind lure animals that typically reside inland migrate to the beaches for that food. They may encounter mama turtles and/or hatchlings and kill them. So think of picking up after yourself when you are on the beach or visit the beach as a way in doing your part to save sea turtles.
Major Nesting Beaches Around the World
There are lots of nesting sites around the world, but as coastal development remains ever coveted and popular – the areas that turtles can lay their eggs is shrinking rapidly.
SWOT is a global database that allows volunteers to input different nest sites, sea turtle spotting etc… They have interactive maps of the sea turtle nesting sites, and how you can contribute to helping save even just one turtle.
If you visit Florida, there is a major conservation effort through mass volunteering and even city ordinances to help contribute to the cause of protecting the nests. Each nest is taped off (at least in Florida) with bright pink tape. A sign is posted stating that disturbing the nest will result in a massive fine and/or imprisonment.
As the eggs incubate, it is important to not shoot off fireworks near them, nor stomp or jump on or around them. The baby turtles have a biological ability to sense vibration as a trigger to break free from the egg. Having just a few eggs hatch won’t be enough vibration to make the whole nest hatch, there has to be many. Once there are enough vibrations, then the race is on.
The baby turtles, wriggle their way through the sand that causes other eggs to hatch. Once enough of the little ones are free it causes the center of the sandy nest to drop. The turtles then climb over each other up the sloping edges of the sand and then follow the brightest lights.
Confusing Bright Lights
The problem with this is that they often end up following the bright lights of the hotels, and cars near the beach. They get lost under beach chairs, stuck behind garbage cans, make their way to the car lights and ultimately are smashed in the road.
Something fascinating about Sea Turtles is that they are unable to see Orange or Red Lights. So driving along with certain coastal areas in Florida, you will see hotels beaming the orange lights (after a long fight with them to do so).
There are still certain shops, restaurants, and people who refuse to not use orange lights – so there will continue to be baby sea turtles that die. This is tragic and unfortunate that these humans refuse to do small things to help preserve these endangered animals.
Richard explained that there are people, businesses and hotels he has offered to pay to switch the lights out. He even offered to go and install the lights himself. The people, shops, and owners down-right refuse to take him up on his offer.
While this is aggravating and selfish; the only thing that we can continue to do as the Culture Trekking Community is to share, educate, and spread awareness. If enough people write emails, letters, or voice their opinion – we truly can create change that will save lives.
Richard and his team of Volunteers decided that if the hotels and businesses will not do their part, then they will pick up the slack. While the government supplies protection during the day, Richard and his handful of volunteers provide protection at night.
These volunteers spend countless nights sitting on the beach next to nests protecting and waiting for when they hatch. These volunteers and those who sign up for their turtle treks help guide the baby sea turtles away from the deadly road, and back to the ocean.
Each nest and the expected due date is charted in the new database STOP created. The nests are then color-coded by the number of days of gestation, and those in red are due soon. The nests that are nearing their 45-55 day window, are then guarded and babysat until the turtle’s hatch. Sometimes there are stragglers, and the nests are seen as ‘active’ and not to be disturbed, for at least 3 days after the initial hatching.
Once the Active period has ended, the nest is then evaluated, and eggs that are remaining or baby turtles that didn’t make it are counted. Unfortunately, the eggs at the bottom of the nest don’t get the necessary oxygen, or can be crushed by the weight of the other eggs – so there will always be some that do not survive.
Saving Sea Turtles
Richard and the STOP volunteers, along with those like me who signed up for the Turtle Trek will comb the beach looking for sandcastles to knockdown. They pick up garbage and items that could impede a mama turtle or a baby turtle from completing their biological tasks. They remind and educate party-goers on the beach to not use phones, flashlights, yell, or play loud music.
During nesting season, they allow people to sign up for Turtle Treks for a fee of $25 or more to help guard, and maybe save baby sea turtles from wandering into the road.
There is a circle around the nest that is drawn to keep the Turtle Trekkers at a safe distance to not create vibrations. Then there is a 10-foot perimeter drawn around the circle. This perimeter is drawn so that scientists can draw conclusions and collect data on the progress they are making in saving the turtles. The marine biologists also want to give the turtles a chance to turn around if they get confused. Volunteers are advised to not pick up the baby turtles until they reach the 10 Foot perimeter.
Once the baby turtles hatch and they reach the perimeter, they are then put into buckets, and placed back into the ocean.
Volunteering to Save Sea Turtles
Being able to be a part of this Turtle Trek is something I will never forget. There are many nights the volunteers see amazing things. As Richard said, “Each time we see these tiny turtles emerge from the nest, it is a new experience. Each one has his/her own personality and you can see it by how they interact”.
The night I was there we were able to fill in a few holes in the sand. We listened to the stories Richard has collected through the years. Unfortunately, the nest they had anticipated hatching, hatched at 7 pm, just the time we were meeting at the gathering place. This was likely due to the cooler than normal weather, and the cloud cover from the rain making it a little darker a little earlier than normal.
We sat around another nest all night, it was on day 49, and sometimes they are known to hatch a little early. Blessedly the little turtles stayed tucked in their sand bed, and it just gives me another reason to come back and participate again.
Anyone can volunteer, anyone can go on a Turtle Trek. While it does have a fee associated with it, please know that all proceeds go towards protecting the animals.
Richard and his STOP volunteers work tirelessly to protect the nests, fight for the rights of the turtles against the big hotel chains that run along Broward County coastline. The work they do today, will help protect these animals for your children’s, children’s, children – they don’t get paid to do this – they volunteer to be on-call, out late at night. They have been spit at, yelled at, and even stalked because of their efforts – so $25 is not a lot to ask for the experience and education provided.
What Can You Do At Home To Save Sea Turtles?
Living in Utah, there aren’t a whole lot of oceans around. Yet there are things that I can personally do to help with the cause. The first being, use less plastic as much as possible.
There is nearly 8 million tons of garbage that end up in the ocean each year. Each item of garbage has different rates of decomposition, plastic is the longest of all of them. Hundreds of thousands of sea life die each year from garbage that is consumed.
It isn’t just Sea Turtles, it is whales, seals, and fish. I’m sure we have all seen at least one article about garbage being found in a dead whale – or a plastic straw lodged into a sea turtles nose. So hang those reusable bags near your door, take one with you on your vacation, buy a few for a friend.
Choose the milk in the paper carton, instead of the plastic carton, get reusable straws (they even have portable ones), use bamboo forks/spoons and keep one in your purse. Email locations, theaters or even local coffee shops that don’t offer more environmentally friendly container options. If you go out to eat, bring a glass Tupperware to bring home leftovers.
Pay attention to the chemicals that you use. What kind of chemicals do you use in your laundry detergent, what about your dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, or body wash. Think about those items you use the most frequently and make better choices. Sometimes that is all it takes, is a better choice, not a drastic change. Each month you can commit to making a better choice than last month. Eventually, it will become second nature to you.
Staying on Coastlines
If you are staying at any coastline hotel near the regions highlighted above – close your curtains after the sun goes down. Ask the hotel why they don’t have orange lighting to help protect against sea turtles getting confused. Send emails, be a voice, be a force.
If you decide to go out on the beach at night, do not use your phone on the beach nor near nesting turtles. Don’t play loud music, or light a fire that could deter turtles from coming ashore to lay their eggs.
Other Ideas for Doing Our Part At Home
Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, this can decrease your carbon footprint by 150 pounds per year. Driving less, taking a bike to the store instead of driving can save one pound of carbon for every mile you don’t drive.
Recycling can potentially save you up to 2400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by recycling just half of what you use in your daily life.
Checking the tires on your car so your gas mileage is more efficient saves 20 pounds of carbon per gallon per year. Use less hot water, by taking shorter showers can save 500 pounds of carbon per year. This can also apply to washing your clothes in cooler water as well.
Planting one tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the tree.
If you aren’t using your computer, television, DVD player, stereo or computer then turn them off. You can save yourself thousands of pounds of Carbon Dioxide a year by doing this.
These are just a few ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint while you are in this world. What we do today can impact our descendants for decades to come.
A Duty to Save Baby Sea Turtles
We as a human race, are the biggest threat to Sea Turtles becoming extinct. Imagine your Grandchildren watching Finding Nemo, and then they ask ‘Are Sea Turtles Real?’ – I for one, hope I never have to answer, ‘Well….they were real, but they all died’.
We have a duty to protect, save, and educate not just ourselves but spread the news in a positive and constructive way to those who may just not know any better. Get involved with a volunteer group, go on a Scuba Diving Ocean extravaganza, pick up trash, move those beach chairs.
***Please note that all photos of turtles taken at night and hatching from the nests were taken by Richard Whitecloud who is licensed by the State of Florida to do so. Lights of any kind are not allowed on beaches as listed above. Please do not attempt to film, or photograph any nests during the evening***
Sweat dripped down my forehead, my mouth was slightly dry and I turned to my diving buddy Jen, “Do you still get nervous before you go diving?”. We were Scuba Diving off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach in Florida with Pura Vida Divers in June. She gave a knowing smile, and replied, “It has only been within the last year that I haven’t been nervous before a dive. It took diving on a regular basis to get to this point. You will become more confidant in your diving and things won’t seem as scary because you will know what to do”.
Our dive masters, one a tall hulk of a former Navy man who briefed us on diving in the Trench. A drop in open water with depths of 50 – 60 feet (15 – 18 meters), and a moderate current. He was a bit on the camera shy end, but detailed us in an efficient and well dictated manner. The two things I remembered, ‘Stay in the trench’ and ‘if you get lost, go to the right’.
A Feeling Of Unease
We got our gear ready, flippers on, mask on, regulators checked, and waited for the call to giant walk into the deep blue. I was sitting by the end of the boat, so would be the first one to follow the Dive Master. Then just as is characteristic of military fashion, we were ushered quickly to the end of the boat, looking like penguins with massive flippers flopping awkwardly to the walk off point. I grabbed my mask and took that giant step into the ocean.
I turned and my diving partner was caught on something, the current was sweeping me and the dive master further and further from the boat. I waited til she was in the water, then we signaled to go down. This was the first moment that I felt the unease of this dive. I have a natural ability when it comes to predicting bad events, I wouldn’t say I’m a psychic, but know when things aren’t quite going to go well. I can’t really explain it, but I would soon find out why I felt this way.
Diving into the Trench off Singer Island Florida
The visibility was about 40-50 feet near the top, a strong current was sweeping us all towards the dive master. We followed the bouy down behind him, and Jen and I corrected our distance from each other. It was hard to see the dive master below, as it takes me a bit longer to descend than others due to my Asthma. I tend to get nervous and hold my breath a bit more than I should.
Practicing some of my own self-calming measures, I exhaled the fear, and dropped more easily down next to Jen. We slowly neared the bottom and that is when I was surrounded by an aquatic forest of barrel coral and fishy friends.
Avoiding the Current
I never want to be the person that sits and ruins coral because I’m not as adept at keeping my bouyancy as I should be. So I tried to hover a bit higher than the rest of the group so as to not bump into anyone, or ruin the coral. This wasn’t quite working out though, the current was quite strong and I remembered the instructor telling us to stay low.
I was so grateful I had brought my photo stick so that I could gently push away from coral with minimal impact should I have drifted too close.
Soft Bottom Surrounded by Color
I was enamored by all the fish hiding in the nooks and crannies here. Since I was in the front of the group and slowly drifted breathing slowly with minimal movements of my arms the fish became curious. Swimming right up to my camera, until the bubbles from my regulator scared them away. I would periodically check back to see Jen, just as enamored as I was at the abundance of healthy coral here.
It made my heart sad that there weren’t more places in the world that the coral was this healthy. Committing to show the Culture Trekking Community what healthy Coral should look like & the abundance of life that can come from responsible tourism.
The bottom of the trench is white sand, with a few coral bits here and there. It was created when an oil company decided to drill a trench for a pipeline they were going to place here. Luckily that was stopped by environmental activists that got wind of it, and now I was reaping the benefits of this beautiful area. The reef was covered with both soft and hard corals. I didn’t see any moray eels rumored to be living there but I’m still not great at spotting them. They said that there is an abundance of green, spotted purplemouth, and goldentail eels said to hide out often in the nooks and crannies here.
Losing Time and Our Group:
After getting lost in my own thoughts, and capturing as much of this wonderful area as I could – I turned around and didn’t see anyone else but me and Jen. I signaled behind us, and she agreed to take the lead to try and find our group.
We made our way back along the trench where we had entered, still not seeing anyone. The current had really picked up, and visibility had dropped by about 10 feet. We tried to turn to the left and the current was so strong, even for an advanced diver like Jen to swim against (and she is an extremely experienced diver). I knew I wouldn’t be able to last the day if I wasted all my energy trying to fight the current. So I tapped Jen and signaled to go to the right.
Riding the Current
We drifted for about 4-5 minutes, and didn’t see anyone. So Jen stopped us, checked both of our air, and just enjoyed the rest of the dive. We both had our inflatable bright orange signaling devices, and decided to get some footage and pictures and enjoy the rest of the air that was in our tank in this watery wonderland.
Ending the First Dive off Singer Island
We surfaced around 800 psi, doing a safety stop along the way. The captain saw our signal, and picked us up promptly. The rest of the group looked like they were just out of our visibility range, only 30-40 feet away from us. It made me feel better we hadn’t drifted into the middle of nowhere like it felt that we had.
We waited for the other members of the group to pop up one by one. The Dive Master surfacing last, with only a few members here and there that had drifted a bit too far.
We all felt a little disjointed because of how strong the current had become within the last few minutes. It scattered us like the sand on the beach, but luckily we all had enough training to know not to fight the current, stay with our dive buddy and enjoy the time.
Dive Interval with Pura Vida Divers
The dive interval was relaxing and seamless. Our captain took us to an area, where we could snorkel around and orange slices and chips were passed around.
Cannonballs off the back of the boat were a must, and music played for the people on board to enjoy while waiting the appropriate time for our next dive.
There was a hose to wash off the salt from the ocean, a fresh water bucket I dunked my camera into, and a toilet in the hull of the boat for those who needed it.
Dive Dive Dive! A Briefing On 4th Street
Watching the second dive master draw out the little animals we might see while diving along 4th street, my smile just grew and grew til my cheeks hurt in celebratory anticipation.
I was going to see a Sea Turtle in real life! You can’t come to Singer Island or West Palm Beach without running into some Sea Turtles. There were also rumored to be a few moray eels lurking about, a few sharks, and our dive master even said there was a hammerhead shark hanging around in the area too.
Riding the High:
Jen and I made an agreement to get off the boat closer together this time, and to stick right with the Dive Master no matter what. So we took the leap to see what underwater creature lottery we were about to win. Riding the high of seeing all the healthy coral on the last dive, I followed the Dive master right down. We were immediately greeted with a Sea Turtle swimming away from us.
While slightly disappointed it was swimming away from us, I was hopeful I would see one again. The dive master pointed out the sea anemone, and the tiny spider lobsters. Apparently there was a Lemon shark behind me, but I missed it because I had just spotted a moray eel. I know….not as exciting as a Lemon shark, but it was the first creature I had found on my own without needing aid.
There is a certain ‘eye’ you have to develop when you are underwater, as these creatures have evolved to camouflage and hide from predators. We are one of their greatest threats, so it takes a lot of practice to have the ‘underwater eye’ as I call it. Although, missing the Lemon Shark and even the Massive Leatherback Turtle tucked underneath the rock, was very disappointing. I’m sure that the more I go scuba diving, the more I will be able to spot these creatures, and recognize them by name.
Seeing Sea Turtles
Swimming a head a little, the Sea Turtle came back! It swam right in front of me, looking around the barrel coral. It even stuck its snout inside of one, looking for anything scrumptious that would have gotten stuck inside. It made me so happy to see this wonderful, yet endangered creature that has survived since the age of the dinosaurs swimming right in front of me like I was part of the turtle family.
There were only one or two of us who saw the turtle foraging for food. It was an incredibly intimate moment with this creature that I have grown to love over the years. This beautiful loggerhead turtle was in this environment of wonder and beauty. It made me so happy to see that there was no plastic wrapped around its neck, no straws shoved into the nostrils, no propeller scars on its back. Maybe the small steps we are making in saving these creatures was starting to pay off? I know it is just one turtle, but I never discount the power of hope from seeing one of these incredible turtles survive.
Baby Shark….Oh Wait….WHAT!?!
A frantic banging noise on the dive masters tank made me turn quickly as the turtle swam away. I turned and saw a nurse shark laying on the sand about 50 feet away. The characteristic shark was snuggled into its sandy bed, disturbed by the noise, it lazily swam away into a more private location.
HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE!?!?! I felt like crying! A Shark, an Eel, a Sea Turtle, and not just that, the shark left and we were graced by four more sea turtles! There was coral all around, colorful fish, too many to really focus in any one spot. My heart felt as if it was going to burst from joy. All the fear, all the worry, all of the effort to get my Scuba Diving license and here I was – witnessing animals in a way that I thought I would only see on a TV screen.
It is like Robin Williams said in Good Will Hunting, you can see all the photos of the Sistine Chapel in a book – but you won’t know how it feels, smells or the memories it will create by seeing the real thing. This is exactly how I felt when I spent my afternoon among my aquatic mammal friends.
Thank You Florida & Pura Vida Divers
The Coral along 4th Street and the Trench is (reportedly) better than what you would find in the Maldives and the Caribbean. Not many people know about these areas, and it is very well protected from over tourism. The amount of education given to the public on how to protect the beaches, turtles, and marine life in these areas is definitely creating a positive impact.
Working with Pura Vida Divers to promote West Palm Beach and Singer Island Scuba Diving, was a pleasure and an honor beyond belief. They were kind, informative, and friendly – they certainly pushed my comfort zone with the current that we faced; yet I feel these moments have to happen in order for you to grow as a diver. Not only are they informative and efficient at what they do, they also are only the second dive shop in Florida to earn the PADI Green Star Award.
From our dive center to the boat, we demonstrate a dedication to conservation across a wide range of business functions, including: recycling, our 100% AWARE Program, conservation leadership, paperless programs, use of sustainable materials, conservation fundraisers, and many other proactive actions.
– from the Pura Vida Divers Website
Other Areas Available to Dive Near Singer Island & West Palm Beach
Cable Crossing 16 to 22 feet deep (4 to 6 meters) great for snorkeling, it is a shallow reef with Manta rays, sea turtles and nurse sharks visiting throughout the year.
Jolly Jacks 87 feet (26 meters) deep there is a wide variety of tropical fish and plenty of sea turtles, moray eels, Lobsters and rays.
Spearman’s Barge 70 feet deep (21 meters), Turtles take up refuge here including hawksbill and loggerhead turtles with the elusive green moray eels.
Double Ledges 70 to 90 feet depth (21 to 27 meters) double reef. This is a perfect drift diving spot, with game fish, turtles and soft corals.
Governor’s Riverwalk Shasha Boekanier shipwreck (since 2002) the site is 184 feet (56 meters) freighter and a bonus of 2 more ships are located in this same area houses tropical fish, coral and algae. Gilbert Reef is also considered a part of the Governer’s Riverwalk as well.
Juno Ledge 65 to 90 feet depth (19 to27 meters) with fabulous cave formations as well as a wide variety sharks, Goliath groupers and large moray eels
West Palm Beach
Amarilys was purposefully sunk to be part of Palm Beach artificial reef program. Lying in 70 – 90 feet (21 – 27 meters) of water. Now covered in coral it is home to jacks, snapper, cobia, snook, and sailfish.
Bath & Tennis is a colorful site at a depth of 50 – 65 feet (15 – 20 meters). Schools of fish and lobsters inhabit the broken edges and stretches of ridges.
Breaker’s Shallow located 3 miles (5 km) south from the Palm Beach Inlet 30 – 35 feet (9 – 11 meters). This site in known for vertical wall rises from 30 to 20 (9 to 6 meters).
Cable Crossing 20 – 30 foot depth (6 – 9 meters). There is a plethora of mini caves and sea life and is perfect for beginner divers & Snorklers
Eidsvag & Owens – these sunken wrecks from 1985 became artificial reefs covered by algae, small sponges, tiny gorgonians. You can swim through ship holes here as well. The Eidsvag & Owens are 150-foot (45 meters) and 125 foot (38 meters) freighters at a depth of 80 – 90 feet (24 – 27 meters).
Flower Gardens at a depth of 50 – 70 feet (15 – 21 meters) this beautiful area has large amounts of sea life, sponges, corals and schools of grunts
Paul’s Reef a fabulous drift dive with a depth of 45 – 55 feet (14 – 17 meters). This ledge is covered in gorgonians, sponges, and coral home to many kinds of tropical fish. This is also a great night dive for parrot fish, turtles, and sharks that sleep near this area.
Princess Anne is considered one of the best dive sites in the United States. This vessel sunk in 1993 in 80-100 feet (24-30 meters) now crawling with schools of jacks, barracuda, and shark. It is a great opportunity for multi-level dives.
Technical Aspects of Diving Near West Palm Beach & Singer Island
There are more places to dive than just the Florida keys. Did you know that Scuba diving magazine actually rated Singer Island higher than the Florida Keys on 8/9 categories.
Best Time to Dive: The best time to dive off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach would be during the Turtle Nesting season, which runs from late May to the end of July depending on the season.
Visibility: Can be anywhere from 60 to 100 feet depending on the current and time of year
Current: Diving off of Singer Island, is considered to be the drift capital of the world. With the average current running about 1 knot that runs parallel to the reef lines.
Average Temperatures Year Round: Between 21°C and 27°C. (70° F and 82° F). The coldest month is typically January, and the warmest month is in July.
No one likes to stand out or feel awkward in sports, especially me. If there were awards for awkwardness, I’m sure I would have a few by now. Maybe it is the elementary physical education classes where I farted while trying to do a sit up in front of the entire 6th grade that still haunts me, I dunno – it just isn’t fun to feel awkward. So when I took up the new, posh, sport of Scuba Diving I dreaded getting in the water and looking like a fool. So after a few dive trips under my belt, here are my Tips for First Time Scuba Divers, and how to avoid aquatic awkwardness.
My Number One Tip for First Time Divers: Go To The Bathroom!
Going to the bathroom beforehand is the most important part of this entire tip. Do NOT get creative in your eating right before your first scuba trip. Yes some of the boats have the confined toilets, but if your bowels decide to become water instead….well, the whole boat will get to smell your innards the whole trip. The other part is, when you are under pressure, at depth and have a….shall we say intestinal civil war – you are going to be in a wetsuit and there is no escape from the dreaded explosion.
There is a natural physiological phenomenon that happens when a warm body is placed in cool water. It will make you want to urinate, so just let it go – most divers end up doing this. You are swimming in a marine life toilet anyway, so just consider it contributing to the minerals in the ocean.
Ladies, very important, do not plan on going diving with sharks if it is your time of the month unless you are in a cage – then it is fine.
Keep it Clean
Make sure to keep your stuff neat and tidy. While there are different ways for everyone to organize, just make sure you are conscious of the common space on the boat. There are limited areas for you to put your belongings. There is a dry area (typically under the front of the boat on a ledge) where you can keep a small bag. Anything wet, that can get wet should be tucked under the assigned spot where your tanks are.
Keep your fins out of the walking area, as this is a tripping hazard and can land someone in the water with a ‘man overboard’. Which you don’t want to be on the receiving end of that when the individual gets back in the boat.
There are a lot of things I remembered to bring on my first dive trip, and a few I didn’t. No matter where you are in the world, a boat does not have an ATM card to give tips, nor do they have a cash register. So if you plan on giving a tip then be sure to bring that with you.
My Scuba Instructor Rachelle, from Scuba Utah, gave some good advice on this as she has been diving for the last 35 years, “It is pretty typical when on a dive trip to tip them 10-15% for the day (total, not per individual). Make sure to tip them on a daily basis, as the crew will or can change daily”.
Bring a Photo Stick
I’m not talking about a selfie stick, I’m talking about a blunt 12″ rod that you can clip to your BCD. When you are first starting out, and going from fresh water to salt water; or if you have lost a lot of weight or gained weight it can be hard to find your buoyancy. This small blunt instrument will allow you to gently push off surrounding rock and not crash into the delicate coral reefs.
I recently lost 25 lbs and wasn’t quite sure on my weight I should have in salt water. Utah has all fresh water diving, and when you dive in Salt Water, your weight requirements are going to increase. So keep that in mind, and get the photo stick so that you are protecting the environment until your able to get a little more experience.
Get Reef Safe Defogger and Sunscreen
While on the subject of protecting the coral systems and reefs of the world I would highly suggest getting reef safe defogger and sunscreen. Here are a few I recommend: SurfDurt not only is it organic, it is also in a non-plastic container, so win win!
There are a couple of different options for the ladies (or guys) with long hair and to keep it from becoming a rats nest when you get out of the ocean. One way is to use a swim cap. You want to make sure that it does not go underneath your mask, as this can let the water seep in. It keeps everything tame, and also adds a little extra layer to your head to keep in the heat without having to wear a hood.
Another option, which I learned recently, is to put leave in conditioner in your hair the night before (I’m talking quite a bit). I prefer the spray in kind, like Sun Bum Revitalizing 3 in 1 Leave-In Conditioner Spray (which is vegan and environmentally friendly). When you wake up, put your hair in two braids as tightly as you can get them. This works well for those with long hair especially. It looks great in underwater photos too! When I got back to my hotel, I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to unravel my hair.
Watch That Air
I was guilty of this the last dive trip I went on. Again, being from Utah, pretty coral reefs, sea turtles, and sharks are in short supply here for divers. So when you see these animals in person, it is easy to get enamored with them and taking video of it that you lose track of your air. Luckily I had a dive buddy who I had warned her about this prior to diving and she caught me at 800 on my tank pressure. We started to head for our safety stop, and the more shallow we became the harder it was to stay down despite the extra weight that I added. I have never swam so hard to stay at 15 feet in my life as BCD and tank were trying to skyrocket me to the surface. I burned through 300 PSI in 1:30 min and surfaced before my 3 minutes were up with 400 PSI.
This could have gotten me in big trouble, and her in big trouble. So now I’m fully aware that each time I see marine life that is interesting to me, I need to check my air. Luckily I wasn’t diving deep enough on that dive to put me into decompression sickness, but I don’t ever want to take that chance again.
For the Asthmatics or Those With COPD
When you have Asthma, or COPD you can still go Scuba diving, but have to be aware of a few things. You have a form of air obstruction, which means air gets trapped in your lungs more easily than the average joe (or jane). This can significantly affect your bouyancy when you get fatigued.
When a person with Asthma or COPD is fatigued, air can get trapped. This will require you to add more weight to counter this. Think of trying to get an inflated balloon to descend on a dive. It is nearly impossible, unless you have a tow rope to pull you down with the balloon. This is the same idea when you go diving. So if you are out of shape or fatigued, I would suggest adding an additional 2-4 lbs of weight to your BCD so that you can stay down during the safety stop as you start to surface. (A lesson I have had to learn the hard way).
Rachelle taught me in my Scuba Class, that noise underwater will be amplified. Being very sensitive to sound above land, I was a shocked at how much sound carries underwater.
Once I realized what was going on, it was easier to isolate and tune out the buzzing of the engines above me. It is quite distracting though when your descending for the firs time, so stay close to your diving buddy and the instructor.
Motion sickness can happen in many different places, and is different for everyone. For example, I do not get sick on boats big or small, but get me in the back of a tour bus and I will be green as a tree within the first ten minutes. There are many options for Motion Sickness so be sure to read my recent article on different ways of treating this and avoiding it in the first place.
Allow 18-24 hours Before Flying
Even some of the most experienced divers, forget about this rule. It can affect the incidence of Decompression sickness due to the altitude, and Nitrogen needing to fully ‘off-gas’ or dissolve before flying.
I typically give myself 24 hours, just to make sure I won’t get sick. While this is more important for live aboard diving where you are doing multiple dives per day over several days. It is good to get into the habit, so you don’t forget in the long term like many divers end up doing.
Know How To Self Calm
The Scuba Magazine reported that 20% of diving accidents are caused by people panicking. So knowing how to calm yourself while underwater is key to beginner divers.
On my last dive, I was so nervous before getting into the water for some reason. I quietly asked my friend Jen, from Coleman Concierge, ‘Do you get nervous before dives still?’ She said, ‘After all the dives I have been on, all the years I have done this. This year has been the first year where I haven’t felt nervous before a dive’.
I have PTSD, and anxiety at baseline – I also almost drowned as a child after getting stuck under a bridge during a river tubing trip. So I had to learn very quickly underwater, that simply maintaining bouyancy, making a specific handsignal where both hands are up in a stop gesture – signals to my diving buddy that I just need a second to calm my nerves.
After getting an ok from my dive buddy that they understand and come closer. I hang onto their BCD, close my eyes, and concentrate on breathing slowly until the wave of anxiety passes.
If the wave of panic or anxiety is bad enough, or you can’t self soothe. Just gesture to your diving buddy that you need to end the dive. Be kind to yourself, and like Rachelle always says – ‘It is normal and ok to be nervous. Never be afraid to end a dive if you feel uncomfortable’.
Tips for First Time Scuba Divers From A Professional
I asked my instructor, Rachelle, for some of her input on things that she would strongly recommend to new students. Having 35 years of experience and teaching hundreds of students, and Veterans with PTSD, Here is what she suggested:
Dive within your limits – don’t try to appear cool, or think you are the weak link by voicing something you are uncomfortable with.
Do not try to dive outside your training or your equipment requirements. You will put yourself at risk, which you have that right to do if you wish – but more importantly, you are putting your dive buddy, and dive master at risk which is absolutely NOT ok to do.
Respect the boat and the crew no matter how much you think you know. They know the area better than anyone, and they know what works best for the conditions in that moment. So even if it seems ridiculous, offensive or childish – just do what they ask with a smile and complain when your done with the dive.
Be aware of your surroundings. Our brains aren’t trained to protect us underwater, so just keep in mind to keep an eye above, and below you. You could stuck between a person who can’t keep their buoyancy and a Moray Eel. You might be confidant in your abilities, but there are other people you can affect by not being aware.
Leave only bubbles, take only picture. While it might be tempting to pick up that starfish, or take that giant seashell home as a souvenir. Just leave it alone, and let the next diver appreciate it as you did.
Don’t touch, tease or harass aquatic animals. There are so many marine animals that may look harmless enough, but can be quite deadly.
Keep your mask OFF your forehead! This is a universal sign of distress that Master Divers are trained to recognize. So when you do this, it can cause all sorts of chaos that is not needed. Keep the mask on your face until you are back in the boat and even then don’t make it a habit.
Create Your Bucket List!
The Diving community is a tight knit community, that generally is quite supportive. Reach out to those in your community, take a dive class, and then create your bucket list of Diving. I asked my fellow divers for their Top Dives From Around The World, and now have my own Diving Bucket list I’m working through.
If you have any Tips for First Time Scuba Divers, be sure to drop them below and connect with the Culture Trekking Community on Facebook or Instagram; arrange a few dive trips with other members of the community.
Diving has become a huge passion of mine, and I am slowly working my way to becoming a Master Diver (keyword slowly). After knowing it is an activity that I will be doing for the rest of my life, I decided to get a little input from fellow divers and travel experts around the world who have contributed to this article on what we all feel are the Top Diving Locations Around the World. Within each section, you will find information on the Dive site, visibility, certifications required, how to get there, where to stay and other helpful tidbits to craft your own Diving Bucketlist.
Don’t forget your travel insurance, I don’t travel without it now. I typically use World Nomads as you can specifically craft the insurance coverage for your extreme sports activities and your budget. If you have a dive site you would love to add, be sure to add it in the comments below.
Mexico: Cabo (Lands End)
Cabo San Lucas conjures up images of partying, sloppy drunk teens escaping from their parents….or at least it did for me in the beginning. When taking my cruise there this last December I couldn’t have been more wrong about what kind of adventures Cabo San Lucas Holds. There are plenty of areas to dive here, and with the mass amount of tourism, the companies cater to you and have really nice equipment.
The dive itself is some of the most unique along the Mexico/South American Coastline. There are underwater sand falls, shipwrecks, seals, eels, Mobula Rays, Hammer Head Sharks and a healthy array of colorful fish and puffer fish. If you decide to dive in December, the whales will be migrating and are truly worth every minute observing their breaching and feeding frenzy.
Visibility here depends on the season, during the summer you can have 30-90 feet of visibility and the winter can drop to 20-40 feet. While water temperatures can range from 64-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Depths near Cabo Arch can be anywhere from 10-90 feet, while diving sites at Lands End are 1000+.
This was my first real ocean dive, as diving in Utah (the middle of the desert) is a little difficult to get that ocean experience in. I would recommend that you have good control of your buoyancy, and take a guided tour so that you can see the best parts without getting hit by tour boats going to Cabo Arch. I recommend using Cabo Adventures as there are plenty of staff on hand to cater to the most advanced divers and the newest divers. We had a mix of open water, and master divers on our boat; so they took us all out and split us up into appropriate groups where each of us had a wonderful time. They also do snorkeling adventures, dolphin encounters and a whole lot more. Plus they are really good looking…sorry not sorry…lol.
To get here take a flight to the Los Cabos International Airport, from there it is a 34-minute drive to Cabo San Lucas. I would suggest taking the bus though it is $5.50 for two people and takes around 1 1/2 hours to get to the Center (Puerto Paraiso Mall) of Cabo. If you opt for a cab or shuttle, you are going to pay a lot more. I think you can get a group shuttle for around $15 pp or take a taxi for $50 -$100 so the bus is a big savings if you are watching your budget.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
USA: Florida – Devils Den
While cave diving wasn’t really on my list of ‘best places to dive’, this particular dive was so unique I just had to include it. Devil’s Den is so appropriately named as you descend down into a cavern from the humid Florida air into a prehistoric cave of wonder.
While it appears warm in the video below, the water itself is 72 degrees F/22.2 degrees year round. I didn’t think I needed a full wet suit, as it was still winter in Utah and temps there were around 32 degrees so I just took my shorty wetsuit. While I was a little chilled when entering the waters, by the end of the dive, I really wish I had my full wetsuit (some people were in dry suits). Visibility is excellent, but there is silt on the bottom as the cave is fed by natural springs so try to not disturb the bottom. If you are there on a weekend, or holiday expect to have loads of divers training here.
The cave is an excellent place for practicing night dives, cave diving, and fantastic for beginners. There are areas that are more dangerous than others but the private owners have blocked those areas off, and the caves are easy to maneuver around in. They have also put different items around the caves, so it makes it really creepy and fun to explore. Be aware of the creepy fish and giant catfish lurking in the corners.
You can either stay in Williston, Gainsville or swing over to St Petersburg Florida where there are the perfect west coast white sand beaches, plenty of street art, the Dali museum and yummy places to eat.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Richelieu Rock – Similan Islands
Richelieu Rock is the most popular dive location in the
Similan Islands. The name of the dive site is based on the fact that the dive
site is a rock formation in the middle of the ocean. It is stated that the site
was discovered when during a low tide Jacques-Yves Cousteau and a local
fisherman boat bumped into the top of the rock formation.
The dive site itself is famous due to the traffic that
occurs at Richelieu Rock. The rock is covered in anemone and has over four
variety of anemone fish. There are numerous other reef fish at the location.
The large attraction however is the whale sharks and manta rays that frequently
cruise around the location. A dive tour at the site will typically encompass a
trip around the rock formation, and then if you are lucky, you will see a manta
ray or whale shark cruising by on the outside area.
An added bonus is that the whale sharks are juvenile, so
while smaller than normal, the whale sharks are far more curious and will check
out the divers and the bubbles from respirators thinking that the bubbles may
be plankton. Ultimately making Richelieu Rock a great location to dive with
The dive is easy to complete, with only an open water certification required. The depths can go upward of 30m, but companies typically stay at the top of the rock formation and no further than 15m. Visibility is clear at site, however there can sometimes be strong currents. There are two main ways to get to Richelieu Rock, and the Similan Islands, and that is through liveaboard out of Phuket, or through a dive company that does day trips out to the island. I recommend using Sunrise Divers, they are located in the Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand area and can help arrange a liveaboard or a day trip out.
While I haven’t personally been diving here, in planning my trip to China in the next year – I found this hidden gem! It is the 1,400 old ruined city submerged underwater for over 50 years! Talk about the Asia version of the Atlantic City. Qiandao Lake, also known as Thousand Island Lake, is a sprawling body of fresh water, covering 573 sq. km. It was flooded to create a reservoir where hydroelectricity could be used but displaced nearly 290,000 people in doing so.
After reading about all the specs on the dive I discovered, I personally need a little more experience before attempting it. The visibility is very poor in the lake and gets quite dark very quickly. Some of the diving accounts I read, said that you need to have excellent bouyancy control, excellent navigation epxerience (because it is that easy to lose your dive partner), night dive certification, and advanced open water certification.
There is a lot of silt in the area as it is in a lake, so that is why buoyancy is so important here. Diving itself is apparently a newer sport for those in China so there are limited companies willing or able to do this dive. The company I found that does do tours of this site is Big Blue Scuba that schedules tours here our of Shanghai. I personally plan on staying in Shanghai and then letting the tour drive the 6 hours of winding rural roads to get to the site so I don’t get lost.
I don’t know how long the ruins will last, but despite the visibility and needing excellent diving skills – just watch the video and you will understand why this one needs to be on your bucket list. For more information on this dive, be sure to visit Underwater Photography Guide.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Hanga Roa, Easter Island
One of the most unique dives anybody can do is located in Hanga Roa Harbor. Hanga Roa is the capital of Easter Island, and this amazing and easy dive is called the Moai Dive. And as the name implies, this is the only place on earth where you can meet an Easter Island stone head statue underwater!
This moai is submerged in roughly 28 feet of water, and it is only a few minutes ride from Hanga Roa harbor to reach the dive site. An open water certification is required to do this dive or to visit any of the Easter Island dive sites.
Easter Island is one of the most remote places on earth, and its far distance to the nearest island and the lack of natural stream on the island contributes to the extremely clear surrounding waters. The coral reefs here are relatively young, and some of the 150 species of relatively small fish and other creatures are endemic to Easter Island.
On a typical day, the visibility can range to over 200 feet, with no obstructions in sight. Even better – during the whale migration season, you can sometimes hear some of the whales singing in the distance!
I highly recommend Mike Rapu Diving Center. It is one of the few trusted PADI establishments on the island.
There are only two ways to get to Easter Island: a four hour-flight from Tahiti or a nearly six-hour flight from Santiago de Chile. Either way, it demonstrates how remote this island is.
Contributed by Halef from the RTW Guys
Negril in Jamaica, an iconic destination for scuba divers who want to explore the wonders of the Caribbean underwater universe. This spot features vivid marine world, thriving coral reefs, a range of unique undersea sights, colorful fish, sharks, sea turtles and much more. You will enjoy in a warm crystal clear water with an average depth of 30 ft and maximal depth of 70 ft.
For your diving experience, Sandals Luxury Resorts offers several dive courses. With a 3-hour PADI diving program, you will be able to dive in the same day as the program. There’s also PADI’s e-learning system (8-hour course) which helps you to complete it at your own pace. Furthermore, the program does not require any prior certification or dive experience. I recommend staying at Sandals Negril offers from two-story suites to the Millionaire Suites, some with private pool, balcony, patio or swim-up pool, etc. Which to choose depends on your preferences and budget.
To get here there is a daily flight from Miami to Montego Bay. Once in Montego Bay take an included transfer to Sandals Negril. It’s a 60 minutes ride.
contributed by Leo from Safari Nomad
Gordon Rocks the Galapagos Island
The Galapagos is world famous for its incredible wildlife and the underwater world is no exception. One of the best tours in the Galapagos is to visit Gordon Rocks, a dive site near the island of Santa Cruz.
Gordon Rocks is one of the best places in the world to find Hammerhead sharks and the Oceanic Sunfish. You can also see Galapagos sharks, white tip reef sharks, giant sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, Galapagos eels, Barracudas and various colorful reef fish.
The average depth of the dive is between 60-80 feet. Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site as the current can be strong at times. In order to dive, you will need to have your open water certification and a minimum of 25 logged dives.
I recommend diving in Santa Cruz with Scuba Iguana. They are one of the oldest diving companies on the island and have an excellent reputation for being safe and environmentally responsible.
Scuba Iguana is located in Santa Cruz’ main town, Puerto Ayora. A good hotel to stay in is Hotel Ikala, located just a few minutes from the dive shop. This new hotel was built with a focus on sustainability and is surrounded by beautiful trees and gardens, giving it a natural and fresh ambiance.
Contributed by Lora from Explore with Lora
Green Island, Lvdao Township, Taiwan
They say Green Island is the best diving spot in all Taiwan due to its incredible visibility of 40 meters or even more. When we got into the water, I knew people were right. The visibility was fantastic, the more than 200 types of corals are colorful and flourishing. You have a wide range of beautiful fishes in all shapes and sizes. I have never seen that many clown fishes on that little space.
Max depth is around 20meters. Visibility is incredible, around 40 meters. You need at least an Open Water. However, the dive centers also offer explorer dives with 5 meters depth and taking photos. Absolutely interesting for beginners, since the corals and fishes are colorful, and you can even see turtles.
The company we went with was “BLUE SAFARI DIVING CENTER 藍莎潛水中心”. I asked specifically for a dive instructor that speaks English, to take away any language barrier. They organized one for me. It was a 1 on 1 dive, so only me and the instructor. The briefing was on the point, we went through all signs again, to make sure we can both understand each other under water. He then asked what i want to do. I could do a drift dive, see specific fishes. I told him I am interested i seeing Turtles. We succeeded and saw two precious, beautiful turtles.
We stayed at “Hostel Green520 綠島民宿‧綠野仙蹤鄉村童話-海島民宿” (< that is the full name apparently). The host is a young guy from the island, and it feels like you are staying wth a friend. He knows everything on the small island. He also picks you up on the harbor, and you exchange your WhatsApp with him. During our stay, he sent as a few messages, for instance when it was raining he’d send us a message to stay safe because it’s slippery. And then if we want to go for a drink tonight. Seriously, it was like staying with a friend!
You can only take a ferry from Taitung harbor. The ferry takes around 1 hour, and it can be bumpy. There are also airplanes, but they are always sold out, taking the ferry is much easier.
The Gili Islands is a great place to go diving. There’s a small shipwreck, some underwater statues, and turtles the size of dinner tables! It’s a trip you can take around all 3 Gili Islands. The water is beautiful and crystal clear so you can see tons all around you. You don’t have to be certified as they have introductory dives that will take you up to 12 meters on your first dive. You can check out Shark Point to see reef sharks, eels and rays, or head to Turtle Heaven where you can swim with several large turtles.
Gili Air Divers on the island of Gili Air is a PADI certified company that we recommend. They are very professional and emphasize safety. You can easily find them after your boat docks, on the strip of vendors.
We always recommend staying on the island of Gili Air, as it is more of a relaxing vibe as opposed to the more party islands. It has a great tropical island vibe with lots of live music and great food on the beach every night. We had a great experience staying at “Villa Karang Hotel and Spa”, with pools, a spa, great air-conditioned rooms, and right across from the beach.
Gili Air is a boat ride away from Bali, Indonesia, and it is very easy to find a boat to take you there. You can check online to purchase your tickets in advance as well.
Monad Shoal is the only dive site in the world where you are likely to spot Thresher Sharks daily. Normally the Thresher Sharks live and hunt at 50+ meters of depth. The sunken island works as a cleaning station as the sharks swim up there early in the morning to get their skin washed by tiny fish called Cleaning Wrasse. That´s when divers can observe them.
The dive goes down to the underwater sandbank of Monad Shoal. From there, you dive down along the wall to about 30 meters of depth. Once you spot the Thresher Sharks you will sit down by the wall and observe them calmly. Visibility is normally 10-15 meters.
As the dive is 30 meters deep you need minimum Advanced Open Water to do the dive, though some companies will take experienced Open Water divers. You need to stay at Malapascua island to do the dive. I did it with Jayky, a great instructor and divemaster at Dive Society. Unlikely most of the dive centers, this is not on the main beach, hence you get a better price and the experience was nevertheless unforgettable.
We traveled budget, so we stayed at a basic, budget bungalow with no name in the inland dirt tracks of the island. We found it by talking to some locals when we arrived.
To get to Malapascua you need to get a bangka (traditional Philippine pirogue) from Maya Port on Cebu island. You can take a bus from Cebu city to Maya. It is also possible to go from Leyte island by private bangka, but that will be much more expensive.
Contributed by Linn from Brainy Backpackers
SMS Cöln – Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
The SMS Cöln is one of the wrecks within Scapa Flow. She is the most intact cruiser in the Flow and sits on her starboard side at 36 metres. The shallowest point is at 22metres. The stern and armoured control tower are still intact. The visibility averages about 10metres. This is a cold water dive in deeper water so PADI advanced open water with wreck and dry suit experience are needed to make it a pleasant experience.
There are a number of companies who operate out of the nearest town of Stromness. I would recommend Andy Cuthbertson who runs Jean Elaine through Scapa Flow Charters. If you want support or training then Scapa Scuba have courses, training and equipment available and can take you out the wrecks in the flow. This is especially useful if you are a single diver or buddy pair. All the charter boats usually take larger groups and book up months in advance.
All of the companies include accommodation in their packages. They use small self catering cottages or the Stromness Hotel.
Diving in Scapa Flow is from the small town of Stromness. This can be reached from mainland Scotland using Northlink Ferries which run from Thurso near John O’Groats (three hours drive north of Inverness). The ferry takes just under 2 hours. You can also fly to Kirkwall and then drive the 40minutes to Stromness in a hire car.
Out of all the places I’ve dived and snorkeled around the world, there’s honestly nothing that has come to close what I experienced at the Batu Balong dive site in Indonesia! I had just finished an incredible four-day sailing trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, and visited the Komodo National Park (which I’d highly recommend doing as well)!
I was traveling with a few friends, and we all decided to book a one-day diving trip with Uber Scuba in Labuan Bajo. We visited a few different dive sites, but this one spot called Batu Balong was easily the best! From the minute you jump in the water, you are quite literally surrounded by thousands of fish in every direction, and the colorful coral is the most vibrant I’ve ever seen! The max depth is around 25 meters, with visibility being good to excellent year round. Honestly a perfect place for any open water certified diver.
We saw turtles and sharks on the dive, and it was just such an amazing experience! Labuan Bajo is on the island of Flores in Indonesia, which you can find cheap fllights to on a few different airlines. I’d recommend staying at the Ayana Komodo Resort too, because it’s easily the best property on the island!!
Malaysia: Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands
One of the places that surprised me the most in Malaysia was Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands. I have visited out of season, when the island was almost deserted, with probably only around 10 tourists in total. There was not much to do except for diving, snorkelling, and enjoying coconut smoothies on the beach.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands is a magical experience because of the amazing underwater eco system that developed around old sunken ships and buoys. There are several spots where you can dive in Perhentian Islands, which you can pick in a day tour from one of the diving centres on the island.
One of the most popular dives is at the “Sugar Wreck”, a 90 meters long cargo ship which sank in 2000. There are over 20 different diving spots around, where you can observe the marine life, such as tuna, sword fish, pufferfish, black tip reef sharks, sting rays and turtles. The corals are so beautiful as well, but remember, don’t touch them.
To reach the Perhentian Islands you need to catch a speed boat from Kuala Besut, the closest town on the mainland. I chose to stay at Maya’s Chalet, in a hut right on the Coral Bay beach.
Contributed by Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Mary’s Place, Roatán, Honduras
Just off the coast of mainland Honduras lie the Bay Islands, Roatán being the largest of the group. These Caribbean islands are set atop a 1,000-kilometer Mesoamerican barrier reef, and most of the dive sites are just a few minutes boats ride from shore.
There are hundreds of spectacular sites to choose from and Mary’s Place is one of the best. Known for its sheer vertical cracks caused by ancient volcanic activity, this site is best suited for experienced divers. With a maximum depth of 36 meters (120 feet), divers must have an advanced certification and a good handle on buoyancy. Like many dive sites in the Bay Islands, Mary’s Place is known for excellent visibility and healthy corals.
Roatán Divers is one of the most reputable dive shops on the island. They’re very professional and well located. Plus, they have a focus on environmental responsibility, which is why we chose to dive with them. I recommend staying at Ibagari Boutique Hotel which has beautifully-designed rooms that you’ll love to relax in after a day of diving,
To get there from the city of La Ceiba, ferries depart for the Bay Islands twice daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Thailand: Koh Tao
If you enjoy diving, you will love diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. This is probably the number one destination in Thailand for divers. Koh Tao is a paradise island that is home to some of the most awesome dive sights. One of the best dive sites being Sail rock. Here you get the opportunity to dive with large schools of Barracuda, other amazing fish and stunning coral.
This amazing dive actually takes you down through a
rock, crazy. The dive can take you to a maximum of 18-metres deep, from the
bottom you can exit the rock and ascend back to the surface. However, these
depths are for advanced divers. A good depth for beginners is 5-metres.
You will be required to have your PADI certificate if
you want to dive to the deeper depths of Sail
Rock. If you are new to diving, you can enjoy a fun dive to a few metres
How to get to Sail Rock?Your Koh Tao dive school will take you on a 1 and half hour journey via boat to the dive site.
Which dive school to choose?I would highly recommend crystal dive school which are a team of dive experts that ensure you will have an amazing dive if you choose them. Also, if you choose to a PADI certification, you should choose CrystalDive. They are known for delivering high quality and safe courses. This amazing dive company also offers accommodation within their dive school. This is a very popular option for travellers.
The best place to stay when planning to dive here is at the P.D Beach resort, which I would highly recommend.
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for being one of the best dive locations in the world. At 2,300 km long, comprising thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands, it’s home to countless species of fish and coral, plus sharks, turtles and dolphins.
You can dive the Great Barrier Reef all along Australia’s east coast, but one of the most popular places to go is the small resort town of Port Douglas, just north of Cairns. Port Douglas is pretty much a dedicated beach and dive town, offering easy access to the Agincourt Reef System, part of the Ribbon Reef and one of the most popular and accessible dive areas. Agincourt Reef offers 45 different dive sites, mostly drift and wall diving, with coral gardens and shallow dive sites that are great for novice and intermediate divers. You can even do introductory dives, so everyone from complete beginners to experts is catered for.
As well as a fantastic range of coral fish, you’re likely to spot lionfish, barracudas, dogtooth tuna, reef sharks and blue spotted stingray. Depth at the various Agincourt sites ranges from 12-40 metres, and on a good day visibility can be up to 30 metres; the average is usually about 20 metres.
The dive company I recommed is ABC Scuba Diving or Blue Dive, I truly had a great time with them and felt cared for every step of the way.
There are loads of places to stay in Port Douglas, ranging from backpackers’ hostels to serviced apartments to expensive beach resorts with pools. We stayed in Coral Beach Lodge which was centrally located and quite affordable.
The Silfra fissure sits along the mid-Atlantic ridge, a location where the earth’s plates diverge, here Iceland is being slowly ripped in two but the resulting freshwater dive in the middle of the country is bound to blow your booties off. Silfra is unique in the world, the only place in the world where you can (feasibly) dive between the earth’s tectonic plates! Running from a shallow 1m down to 40+ meters Silfra is a somewhat technical dive that you’ll need your drysuit diver certification for but with 100+m visibility its well worth the trouble.
Staying in Reykjavik is the best option for people wanting to dive the fissure, we loved the FossHotel Reykjavik. The city is vibrant, interesting & worth exploring best of all when it comes time to go diving every tour operator out there offers hotel pickup! Arctic Adventures offers daily snorkels and dives at the fissure complete with a tour of Thingvellir national park & hot cocoa & cookies when you get out of the perpetually cool (2*c or 35F) water.
Palancar Gardens off the coast of Isla Cozumel in Mexico is one of the best wall dive sites in the world. As Palancar is part of the National Park it is well protected and has huge healthy coral formations, multiple (optional) swim-throughs, and a wall that drops down to 130 ft. This dive site really will blow your mind. Expect to see turtles, green moray eels, eagle rays (only during the season), and nurse sharks (all year round).
The depth of this dive is between 30- 80 feet and it is a great reef to dive for all experience levels. Beginners can stay to the side and above the reef and more experienced divers can go deeper and do the swim-throughs. The average visibility diving in Cozumel is 100ft all year round. You will need an open water certificate to dive here. Although it is possible to do this dive on a discover scuba dive as it is often used as a first dive site.
The dive company I recommend in Cozumel is Scuba Tony. I did my advanced certificate with them and I would never dive with anyone else over there. The dive masters are awesome and their equipment and boats are in top condition.
If you are going to Cozumel to dive you are better to stay further south so you are closer to the better dive sites. Most hotels have a dock where the boats can pick you up from. If you stay further north most dive companies will not pick you up. I recommend staying at the Fiesta as it is in an ideal location and has great facilities.
Getting to Cozumel is easy as the Island has its own airport with many international direct flights. Alternatively, you can fly into Cancun and then take a connecting flight to the Island, or take a taxi or ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. From Playa you will need to take the 40-minute ferry over to Cozumel.
Contributed by Claire from Claire’s Itchy Feet
Jeju Island – South Korea
The exotic Jeju Island is a stunning and extremely popular holiday destination among Korean and foreign tourists. The island is often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea. Not only is it stunning, but it also has so much to offer, from great hikes to amazing beaches, yummy food, and great water activities like kayaking, snorkeling, diving and many more.
All around the island, there are many different diving spots and schools. But the creme de la creme diving spot is around the Seongsan Ilchulbong (sunrise peak). This natural phenomenon is a volcanic crater created more than a hundred thousand years back as a result of volcanic eruptions. This site is now a protected UNESCO heritage site.
The warm water around the peak attracted a wide array of tropical marine life and soft corals, which are absolutely stunning. Diving in Jeju Island and the rest of South Korea is mostly a summer activity as the rest of the year the water will be too cold for divers and instructors. On top of that during autumn and winter, the currents around the island are rather strong and dangerous for inexperienced divers.
The recommended school to dive with is Seongsan Diving Resort as offers diving packages to both unlicensed and licensed divers, making this the best location for beginner and advanced divers. I recommend you rent a car and drive in Jeju, but the school is also accessible using public transportation. When visiting Jeju Island, stay in Jeju City and use this as a base to explore the island.
Contributed by Marie from Be Marie Korea
Philippines: Apo Reef
33 Km off the coast of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro Province, Philippines, you’ll find the Apo Reef. This is the largest coral reef in the Philippines, while in the world is only second to the Australian Great Barrier Reef.
The reef develops on two connecting sections divided by a channel with a white sandy bottom of 30 mt maximum depth. The variety of the flora and fauna in the protected area of the Apo Reef Natural Park is surprising and overwhelming. As you start going down inside the channel, you are instantly surrounded by clouds of snappers and will get to see jacks, barracudas trevallies, squirrel and parrotfishes, triggerfishes, gobies, groupies, reef sharks and the list of the 385 species found in the area goes on.
It is easy to spot turtles (even the rare green turtle) and dolphins, and overall you will meet large schools of fishes. Within one dive-trip from Sablayan, you will normally arrange three dives, and you need the Advanced Open Water Certificate to dive Apo Reef. The visibility in Apo Reef is just incredible and makes for a breath-taking experience. The most visited site of the reef is South Corner.
The Mariposa diving centre on the Tiny Pandan Island is run by a mix of Philipino and European experts and has been organizing day-trips and overnights at Apo Reef for more than 20 years. The centre provides training up to dive-master and is part of the Pandan Island Resort, which offers hut-like accommodation for every budget on a semi-private island and delicious, rich buffet meals. This is your best option to stay at while you visit Apo Reef, as they can take you to the reef with a 90 minutes boat trip.
To get to Pandan Island from Manila by plane to San Jose and by public bus/jeepney to Sablayan where a tricycle can take you exactly to ‘Punta in front of Ludi ‘s place’. From there a Bangka will cross the 300 mt of sea waters to Pandan Island.-from Manila by land and ferry: take a bus to Batangas and the Montenegro Lines ferry to Abra. From Abra, get on a bus to Sablayan, then follows the directions as per the previous point.
The Belize Barrier Reef makes up one-third of the MesoAmerican Reef (the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef), stretching 190 miles along the Central American country’s coastline. Protected since 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reef is the #1 tourist attraction in Belize, with Scuba diving attracting nearly 50% of the country’s annual visitors.
Thankfully removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018, the reef’s diverse array of walls, pinnacles, holes, and reef flats are home to an exceptional array of aquatic life (including 70 hard coral species, 35 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates). During our two dives (at depths ranging from 15 to 60+ feet), we had exceptional visibility and saw a Nurse Shark, Moray Eel, several Spotted Rays, a Sea Turtle, Pufferfish, Lobsters, and thousands of colorful fish.
Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort caters to Scuba divers and offers a variety of daily snorkeling and diving tours. Located less than a mile from the Garifuna culture of Hopkins Village, this excellent eco-resort also boasts beautiful lodge-style rooms with hot tubs on the private patio as well as a restaurant serving up fresh seafood daily.
Domestic flights from Belize International Airport to Dangriga are available on Maya Air or Tropic Air. The staff at Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort can arrange this flight for you, as well as an airport transfer to the resort.
Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel
Tiputa Pass, French Polynesian Islands
The Tiputa Pass is considered one of the worlds best dive sites, in particular to see pelagics. Diving in Rangiroa you’re likely to see manta rays, leopard rays, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, lemon sharks and even great hammerhead sharks. If you’re an advanced diver, you can head depths of 30m or more and see tiger sharks. There are many options, but it is common to do a drift dive through the pass, either on the incoming or outgoing tide.
The pass is popular with experienced divers due to the strong current, however open water level divers are allowed to dive it. I recommend diving with Top Dive, who are very safety conscious, which is particularly important considering the remote location. The visibility is generally very good.
Va’a i Te Moana is a lovely family run pension a short walk from the Tiputa Pass. Double rooms start from £141.50 (19000 CFP) including breakfast. I highly recommend staying here not only because of a convenient location but also it is also very beautiful.
Kia Oras, is another option, it is a luxury resort with over water bungalows and beach villas. Top Dive have a dive shop on the property, so it’s great if you’re planning on doing lots of dives. A beach bungalow with hot tub starts from £331 (44 460 CFP).
To get to Tiputa, I would suggest flying to Pape’ete, Tahiti, and then take a flight to Rangiroa. The airport is in the center of the small island, with most of the hotels and accommodations being on the southern end of the island; I would suggest staying on the Northern end of the island as this is where Tiputa Pass is.
How Do You Choose?
With all of these great dives, it is going to be hard to choose just ONE to commit to for your next trip. I would suggest taking a cruise and hitting several, or find friends to stay with and do them all throughout your lifetime. Go with the dive that speaks to your heart, that you have the certifications for and let fate take you on an underwater journey that not many are brave enough to take.
To all my fellow divers, I salute you – happy bubble blowing!
Have you ever wondered where the people who live in your vacation destination go on their vacation? Florida has a plethora of amusement parks, beaches, everglades, diving, animals, and all around fun – but when you have a short weekend, how do you choose? For those who like the more authentic experience, and doing what the locals do – here are my suggestions for your Florida getaway and how to have an authentic weekend in Florida.
Arriving in Florida
Once arriving in Florida, I met up with some friends, and locals, Jen and Ed. We quickly grabbed our Latte’s and headed out the door towards the Devil’s Den. It is an hour and a half drive North from Orlando. You can drive straight through, or take the scenic route through Ocala National Forest (which adds an extra hour).
There are plenty of rest stops along the way, with cute parks for picnics or for the dogs to stretch their legs. Road trips seemed quite common due to all of the RV‘s I saw on the road.
The Devil’s Den
This dive is one of the more unique dive’s I have come across. We quickly paid, took some photos, checked all of our diving gear and made our way into the Devil’s Den. If this was truly the Devil’s Den, then hell has frozen over. Once you descend into this cavern the air and water get quite cold. This underground river is a consistent 72 degrees F (22 degrees C), while it doesn’t seem too cold, keep in mind you are essentially in a cave with very little light warming you or the water.
The true reason it was called Devil’s Den, is because on cold mornings (well, as cold as Florida can get); you see smoke rising in visible plumes from the chimney opening.
Devil’s Den is a perfect dive for new diver’s as the depth only reaches 54 feet (16.45m). It is a classic destination for Divers, and snorkelers who wish to experience its crystal clear waters and unique inverted mushroom formation.
Fun Fact: There have been several animal fossils that have been found in these waters, dating all the way back to the Pleistocene age – displayed in the University of Florida’s Museum.
What to Bring to Devil’s Den
Be sure to bring your Wetsuit! I live in a colder, and much drier climate. I was able to handle diving in this Cave with a shorty wetsuit; but I would not have been able to do another dive as I started to get cold at the end of this dive.
Bring a light, your GoPro and Diving Rig, with an experienced diver and would suggest getting your cave diving liscense unless you are diving with a Master/Rescue Diver. Luckily Ed is both of those. Some of the cave areas can get quite dark, and you squeeze through some tighter spots – so I was glad to have someone there who could navigate.
Creepy Fish and Caves
I will give you fair warning about the creepy fish in this place. Even though it is a river in Florida, don’t expect some beautiful tropical fish – expect creepy fish, huge catfish that hide in corners like a horrible underwater haunted house.
The caves are fun to explore, the water is gorgeous, experiencing a daytime dive but having to equip ourselves like it was a night dive was what was shocking to me (besides the cold water taking your breath away).
It was pretty incredible to think I was diving in a cave that was over 33 million years old. No matter what kind of dive it is, I pretty much just love blowing my bubbles. If you aren’t a diver though, you can bring some snorkel gear and just relax in the cool waters as well.
Other Amenities Available at Devil’s Den
I would make sure to head there early, as it can get quite crowded with the Dive schools and tourists headed in. You have to reserve a time slot in order to go, and they do have picnic tables available to lay your stuff on. No one will steal your belongings, but they do have lockers available. There is also a heated swimming pool if you have kiddos, 2 large makeshift changing areas and showers with bathrooms. There is an area to wash off your dive gear if needed, gear rental is available for all shapes and sizes in their office. There are more than thirty picnic tables, 5 cabanas, and assorted lawn games if you wanted to bring your family and make a weekend of it.
Get Some Authentic Southern Food in Florida
Searching on Yelp, we scrolled through some of the best restaurants near Devil’s Den. Still tired from my Red Eye, and being hungry makes me a bit grouchy – so finding some good Southern Comfort food was exactly what my taste buds were looking for. We settled on the Ivy House in Williston.
This quaint, homey restaurant appeared to be quite popular with the locals which was not surprising once we sat down and looked at the menu. We chose to go with the Cajun Shrimp, Fried Green Tomatoes and some Hush puppies. It was the perfect blend of savory, with a little spice that made us feel warm from the inside out.
After eating far too much, we headed back to the Hotel to check in in Crystal River Florida. My friend got a phone call from a buddy of his in the area that has a Pontoon boat and he invited us to come and relax with him and his family on the boat.
To be honest I imagined some toothless guys, spitting their tobacco into the river wearing wife beater’s from last week, holding their fishing poles while the women sat there and listened to their pissing contest. This type of thinking tends to happen when I get tired. I was only running on 3 hours of sleep if I was lucky, and to be frank – I’m just not in my 20’s anymore and was getting cranky and tired. Yet I hate missing out, so cut the complaining and judgemental thoughts and went into auto pilot and just rolled with it.
Pontoon Ride on the Homossassa River
The people we met up with were far from the chaw spittin, fly swingin people I had imagined in my head. While they are chain smokers, the amount they smoke was about how much kindness they all for each of us. Some of the most hospitable, funny, genuine people you will meet – and let me tell you – they gave all of us a run for our money. We started off just doing a leasuirely boat ride down the river, and then Katie (from The Traveling Spud) became so excited when we discovered that you can pull into pubs with your boat, buy a beer and then continue on down the river.
Piper (the dog above) was so fluffy, and was wagging her tail like she was whacking weeds – I have never seen a dog get so excited about being on a boat. We passed by Crumps, a Tiki themed bar that is complete with huts, food trucks, white sandy beaches, night time shows and even a playground for the kids in the shape of a ship.
Our host, Mike with his parent and friend Shelly , told us we were going to come back to this bar later as that is really when the party started. We continued to putter along the river, while Piper showed us all her fancy tricks. As the wide Homossassa River narrowed, we were told to keep an eye out for Manatees (which we were going to be swimming with the following day). In fact, we were told we were headed to the Manatee Pub….who knew these places actually existed.
Mike’s Dad, Dick, told us that when we get to the Manatee Pub to make sure to hang onto our drinks because the Pub was damaged with the last hurricaine and the whole Pub is on a tilt. So if you don’t hang onto your drink, well, it may just slide right off the table into the water.
Dick told us stories about what it is like to sit out a hurricaine, how the area changes after each one that comes through and many more stories for Clam hunting, diving, and so much more. (Watch the full experience on the Culture Trekking Channel).
One such tale was of the Monkey bar, where this tiny island was built for a bar and a few monkeys were placed on it for the touristic draw. Well the pub went belly up, but the locals still take care of the monkeys, and have lovingly called this tiny island in the middle of the river – Monkey Island. The monkeys will give you quite the show in the mornings or evening when they are fed.
We sat for a spell at the Manatee bar (on the right) while Mike, Shelly, Jan, and Dick told us more stories about the area – their son that did shipping, and the old lady who buys shrimp and ice cream for the fishermen that come into port and makes a mighty fine living doing it.
We ended our night at Crump’s as promised listening to renditions of songs from the 80’s through the 2000’s.
Swimming With Manatees in Crystal Rivers
The next morning we got up early to go and take a dip in Crystal River at Hunters Bay. This is where the Manatees swim, breed, and take refuge. We were taking a tour with Bird’s Underwater later that day and wanted to see if we could spot some manatees before all the crowds came.
Hunters Bay can get quite crowded so be sure to get there early to get a good parking spot (there is a fee for parking – so make sure to bring some cash).
We didn’t spot any manatees in Hunters Bay, but Birds Underwater took us up to the Three Sisters, and Jurassic Spring and we were able to see Mama’s with their babies. Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers is definitely something I will never forget.
The Last Chapter in the Florida Getaway
We had spent most of the day in the Crystal Rivers area, swimming with Manatees, stopping by the Homossassa Wildlife Refuge – and headed to St. Petersburg Florida. We were dropping Katie off there as she wanted to explore the Dali Museum, take pictures of all the wonderful street art in the area. Unfortunately I had to head home the next day and wouldn’t be able to stay in the area – as my flight was leaving from Orlando. So we decided to catch the sunset and have some dinner in the area.
I had never heard of this place in my life, so didn’t think it would be anything special to photograph or remember— but I was entirely wrong. We raced the sunset to the beach. We pulled into the parking and walking onto this beach was like I was transported to the beaches on Grand Cayman Islands. The sand was perfectly white and clean, as the sun touched the water on the horizon all of the movement on the beach slowed to a stop – there was a peaceful quiet and serene feeling that descended upon everyone there and stayed with us as we all soaked in the sacrament of the sun setting on another wonderful day with friends.
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I met Jen and Ed from Coleman Concierge at a travel conference in 2017. We hit it off pretty well, considering she had lived in Utah for a while (my home state). They invited me down to Orlando and proposed we do some diving and go swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida. They had done some kayaking in Silver Springs where Manatees also visit, and raved about their experience. I decided to take them up on their offer, and promptly bought my ticket to Florida.
Knowing that Manatees are often killed by boats passing by, and they were slow and fat was about the extent of my knowledge about Manatees and their world. Luckily we were able to pair up with Birds Underwater for a tour and my knowledge about Manatees exponentially increased from one afternoon with them. So come take a virtual tour with me, Jen & Ed, and our other friend Katie from The Traveling Spud as we learn just how to ethically interact with Manatees.
The History of Hunters Springs Park
This area was previously owned by a single individual, who upon her death gifted the area to the city as long as it remained free to the public. It was utilized by the surrounding community for many years, with manatees competing for the safety and warmth of the springs.
Over time the area was inhabited by vagrants and unwanted guests that helped contribute to the death and disuse of the property. The city was able to buy an abandoned lot, gave the park a facelift with park benches, a beach, and a playground. This facelift cost around 2.2 million. In order to help maintain the new parking, and the kayak launch there is a minimal charge – but the park itself if free.
Please do not make your own parking spaces, only park in designated areas. Be sure to get there early to get a good parking space.
Starting the Manatee Tour with Important Safety instructions & Ethical Interaction
While it isn’t exactly illegal to see the manatees on your own, I wouldn’t really suggest it. I thought I knew how to responsibly interact with marine life, but I learned so much by taking a guided tour.
My friends and I decided to take a tour with Bird’s Underwater, who are very dedicated to maintaining an environment that is safe for the animals. It was nice to see they were talking about the animals like they would family members they were protecting.
When you arrive, you check in at the front desk to sign a waiver and watch the instructional video on ethical interaction with manatees. The video explains how you shouldn’t dive towards the manatee, reach towards the manatee, pinch them, attempt to ride them, dive near them, wear a wetsuit, don’t kick just use your arms and loads of other things.
I know it sounds like a lot, but manatees are such shy and gentle creatures actions you take are akin to jumping on their bed while they are sleeping. One individual was kicking too much, and ended up kicking a manatee in the face on accident. He got scared, and scared all the other manatees out of the area.
Other general rules that those who were not on a guided tour didn’t quite understand are: don’t hover or corner them, stay a body length away, do not enter the area that says ‘manatee resting zone’, do not talk through the snorkel tube or make cooing noises, be mindful of people near you so everyone has a turn to observe quietly without getting kicked in the face, don’t use underwater lights as the manatees don’t have eyelids and it can blind them.
Do not attempt to feed manatees, this can decrease their fear of humans which can lead to more manatee deaths from boating propellers as they will learn to associate the bottom of the boat with food. Last but not least, don’t walk on the river bed, it is silt and if everyone walks or kicks vigorously it makes the water foggy and is more difficult to get good photos/video of the manatees.
Helpful tips: Use a noodle to help float so you don’t have to kick, Gopro beeping doesn’t bother them, be calm and quiet and they will come up to you, manatees love to look at themselves in the GoPro Dome, they are also fascinated with colorful toenails. If the manatee does approach you, always keep your elbow bent and palm open – if not and someone snaps a photo of you then you will be sent a fine of up to $10,000. There are several fish and wildlife patrols in the Crystal rivers area to enforce these rules.
This is the only place in the world that you can legally swim with manatees, so please try to be respectful and not ruin this opportunity for everyone else.
What Birds Underwater has OnBoard
Birds Underwater outfitted us with snorkel gear, wetsuits, and flotation devices (foam noodles). They do a guided tour up the stream, making sure we stayed together as a group and lead you to the areas where the manatees are. Onboard they have hot drinks: coffee, tea, hot cocoa, granola bars etc… (if there is a good guide) available to you free of charge.
There are typically 12 people on the tour which is a little tight when your all there with your gear on and rucksacks and such. There really isn’t a dry area on the boat, so be sure to either have a dry bag or leave your things in a locker in the store. Once your in the boat, pay attention to instructions and stay seated when the engine is in gear (this is for insurance reasons).
When is the Best Time To See Manatees in Florida?
Out of all the companies we looked at in the Crytal River area, Birds Underwaterseem to be the best on all spectrums for a safe, ethical, and flexible interaction with the manatees. They are one of the only tour group that start a tour at 630am, which puts you out in the rivers before all the silt is stirred up and the manatees are scared away. It also allows you to get up to the Three Sisters area (where many manatees go to rest) before the tide comes in and boats are no longer able to get under the bridge.
The best time to go is when there is cold front coming through Florida from November through February. When the ocean waters get cold, and the Manatees search out warmer waters. This can be really hard to time perfectly, but if all else fails, Birds Underwater also has Diving excursions available.
A Short Manatee Biology Biography
Manatees have seal like bodies that taper into a flat, large rear fin; with two forefins that also aid with maneuverability. Each forefin has 2-3 nails on each.
The Manatees closest relative is actually the elephant, even though they are commonly referred to as ‘sea cows’. (Sea cows were hunted to extinction as of 1741). There are three different types: West African manatee, the Amazonian manatee, and the ones in Crystal Rivers area are mostly West Indies Manatees.
These mammals migrate mostly around the united states during the summer months have been tracked from Texas all the way up to Massachusetts. Despite popular belief, Manatees are pure muscle, which is why they have to seek those warmer waters during the winter months.
Manatees eat mostly aquatic plants and must surface to breathe air. They typically rest submerged at the bottom of the river bed or just below the surface of the water. When they surface, every 3-5 minutes, for breath, it is a subconscious action that puts them at risk for boat propeller injuries. When they are migrating, they expend a great deal of energy and can surface every 30 seconds. Despite being made of pure muscle, Manatees can only swim up to 20 miles per hour, which made them perfect targets for hunters.
Swimming with the Manatees in Crystal Rivers
After learning all of this information about Manatees, I found myself feeling protective of these unique and gentle creatures. My new found respect for them, allowed me to have a much better experience and appreciate just how lucky we are to have these types of interactions when a few of its marine cousins are already extinct.
Getting into the water, I was very careful to not kick my legs around. Tried to relax into the floating orange noodle I had been given and followed the guide up the river to where the manatees were resting.
When I fist saw the manatee, it was almost as if it wasn’t real. This giant fish, that looked like a pug nose on a walrus body was one of the cutest things I have seen. Especially since it seems they love to push their nose into the silt, or into other object when they are resting peacefully. It endeared me to them in a way, as I can’t get to sleep until my mouth is covered.
I quickly became annoyed at other people who refused to follow the rules, or even the young man who dove down right in front of the manatee with his GoPro to get a picture up close. I was grateful my guide warned us about this, and just told us to worry about how we interact and notify a guide if a manatee is encroached upon or touched and the park rangers would take care of it.
I just calmly floated, enjoying the experience and being able to witness this incredible creature tucked into its river bed sleeping. The manatee started to float towards the surface, and watching it come up for air was like watching a ballarina dance gracefully across the stage – be lifted by her partner and the last stretch to the air above before descending to the floor below. Watching this incredibly large creature be so graceful truly gave me chills.
Eventually the manatee swam away because of a group that came in squealing, splashing and talking underwater. I was glad I was able to get a video before they came in and be able to be witness to something so intimately impactful to me.
After re-boarding the boat, slurping down some warm hot-cocoa and traveling to Jurassic Springs – we were able to see a Mama Manatee and her baby. Our guide told us to listen for the squeaks from the baby to its mama, and I was able to capture this on camera. How sweet the playfulness of the baby, and mindfulness of the Mama to her baby was. Our guide told us about how there are different squeaks for different states that the baby manatee can be in, and demonstrated those for us. This baby manatee was happily playful and wanting to explore a little more.
After quite some time observing this sweet interaction between the two, we all headed back to our boat. While waiting to reboard, our guide called out ‘hey, there are a few coming right towards you’. I ducked my head underwater again, and the water in this area was quite murky so it was difficult to see. Then the massive Mama and her baby manatee swam within two feet of me, seemingly out of nowhere – it startled me quite a bit. It hit me, that even when looking for the manatees, it is still easy to miss them when they are literally right under you. This is the very reason it is so important to use boats without propellers in these high manatee traffic areas, and to be mindful of marine life – it would be so easy to kill a mama and leave her baby to fend for itself. That is one desperate squeaking I hope I never have to hear or witness in my life.
Other Activities Near Crystal Rivers
There are quite a few activities to do near Crystal Rivers once you finish your manatee tour. Birds Underwater have Kayaks you can rent to explore the place, Stand up paddle boards as well. If you are feeling more adventurous take a drift dive tour down Rainbow River where you will see a near natural environment with plenty of fresh water fish. Maybe you would like to take your diving a little deeper out in King’s Bay where the once barren area is showing signs of the bass, crustaceans, and other marine life that should be inhabiting one of the largest remaining saltmarsh estuary systems left along the US gulf coast.
For my fellow Scuba Divers, Birds Underwater also offers a full-service scuba diving training and is a Scubapro Platinum dealership (one of only 23 Platinum facilities in the Eastern US). They offer dive training at all levels. Bill “Bird” Oestreich is the only cave diving, Tri – Mix, and Megalodon Re-breather diving instructor in Crystal River, FL, with over 25 years of technical diving, dive training, and dive exploration conducted in over 5 countries. I will personally be revisiting this area, as I am attempting to be a Master Diver in the near future and would love to gain some of his invaluable knowledge. (Don’t tell, but I feel like I was secretly a mermaid in my past life).
How to Get to Crystal Rivers in Florida
It is 1.5 hours from Orlando if you are driving by car, and car rentals are around $13-$18/day for most rental companies.
If you don’t want to drive, or rent a car; then try to take the bus. This will take a considerable amount of time, but you can take a few different bus lines to Crystal Rivers. The Crystal Rivers bus line will cost around $84 round trip, and take around 4.5 hours to get there. What is hidden within the route, is a stop in Tampa Florida where you could grab lunch and maybe stay overnight before heading to Crystal Rivers.
Jen and Ed (locals) said that the beaches on the west coast of Florida are much better than the East coast. Tampa is also close to St Petersburg Florida which is full of beautiful street art, beaches and relaxed environment.
What to Pack for Swimming with Manatees and What NOT to Pack
Selfie Sticks are illegal when swimming with Manatees. Please don’t bring them and ruin the privilege of swimming with these animals.
Wet suit and quality snorkel are a must, no matter what time of year you visit. I personally did not think I required a wetsuit, but was so grateful I ended up wearing my shorty wetsuit once I got in the water.
No matter if you are traveling with children, alone, or just with your furry friend – Road Trips can either be Hell on Earth; or a vacation in and of themselves. So after driving all over the Western United States for most of my life, here are a few Travel Hacks for Road Trips I highly recommend following when planning your own Road Trip at home or abroad.
This is a fantastic app for your road trip, and can also be accessed online to help plan your vacation on the road. I first found and utilized this when taking a Road Trip from Dallas Texas to Nauvoo Illinois. I was going to be traveling through a bunch of open fields. After planning out my route I explored all the spots along the road that had a good rating and found this gem in the middle of nowhere! It is in the Spinach Capital of the United States. A statue of the spinach-eating machine himself has his own little garden and fountain. This also happens to be across from the Police Station, so you have ample entertainment for all!
This app and website are a fantastic way to make those 12 hour drives a little more bearable on the road. From a medical standpoint, it also gives you an excuse to get out of the car every few hours to walk around. People who sit and travel long distances can have swollen legs and blood clots at times as well if they do not walk around sufficiently.
How to stay awake while driving
Get enough rest the night before
Doing this will help you be more alert on the road and less prone to falling asleep at the wheel.
IF YOU ARE TIRED AND START TO LOSE CONCENTRATION THAT IS THE FIRST SIGN YOU ARE AT RISK FOR FALLING ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL.
Pull into a gas station and take a power nap.
I have done this a few times in the past, where I pull into a busy gas station and take a 15-20 min nap. This always helps me feel more refreshed.
Avoid sugary foods or high carbohydrate content as your snack.
When you eat high carbohydrate and high sugar content foods, it starts a vicious cycle of fatigue. Why? Well, you eat that doughnut or candy, your body sees it as too much sugar, so it releases insulin and then drops your blood sugar again. Then you become very sleepy or hungry again, starting the cycle over. I try to avoid sugary foods whenever driving for this reason.
When I get warm I tend to fall asleep much easier. It is more comfortable to be warm, but I would rather have cold toes and arms before risking crashing my car and killing someone else.
This is my favorite way to stay awake. Imagine this like the old radios back in the day that would tell the cowboy stories to the children. The children would be so enthralled by the battles and day to day explanations because they didn’t have TV, this was their entertainment.
Audiobooks typically have quality actors and actresses that are able to do multiple accents, voices, and inflections to keep the listener engaged. Yes, some of the audiobooks are entirely too boring and drab to listen to on the road, but there are many that are not.
I personally have signed up for Amazon’s Audible Book subscription for $14.95 per month. I am an affiliate with them, but I have never been more grateful for the positive entertainment value it provides and now listen to them on the way to and from work all the time.
This is something my flatmate is really into. She has several Podcasts that she listens to on a daily basis to and from work. I think this could also work for road trips as well, you may just need to download the podcasts to your mobile device prior to starting your trip.
What are some of your favorite podcasts?
If all else fails, just start swigging Caffeine. Think of all those boring meetings from work you have survived on the sweet nectar of the Gods.
Travel with a friend:
Switching off while driving is really important while on the long road trips and stretches of the road.
Stretches and Facial exercises:
This is an odd one, but I start stretching my legs, toes, fingers, neck, back arms etc…. It keeps your heart rate slightly more elevated than at baseline, thus increasing blood flow to your brain and keeping you refreshed.
Facial exercises also help to keep me awake at the wheel. I open and close my mouth as hard as a can, wiggle my jaw side to side, see how many animal sounds I can make with my tongue etc….
Check road conditions and weather conditions
With the age of the internet came the ability to check your road conditions prior to starting your journey. There have been several instances that I wish I would have, and others where I didn’t and wish I would have.
There was one instance where I didn’t want to leave my parents house to drive back to Las Vegas and did not look at road conditions. I ended up leaving the house when it first started to snow, and by the time I hit Cedar City Utah, I was in a complete blizzard. Traveling at 25 mph on the freeway because of road conditions, and was nearly hit by a snow plow.
Organizing the car
This is paramount for safety while driving. The less distracted you are on the road, the better off and safer you will be.
I will put all the luggage in the very back of the car, the cooler in the middle of the back seat where it is easy for your friend to reach if needed. If you are traveling alone, set up your ‘snack bag’ where you can easily reach it.
Make sure you have Sunglasses to help with Glare.
If you are driving at night, turn down the dashboard lights. This will help your eyes not feel as tired from trying to adjust to the brightness of the dashboard vs the road.
Have your music or audible book playing before you put the car in drive.
Garbage bag, paper towels, and Kleenex should also be nearby where you don’t have to bend over, reach, or stretch to access them.
Check Your Car for Maintenance
Before you pack anything in the car, make sure your spare tire is filled up and in good condition.
Have a small gas can handy, just in case you miss an exit and the next gas station or turn around isn’t for another 50 miles and you are on empty.
Make sure you check your tire pressure after everything is loaded and in the car.
Change your oil, cabin filter, and engine filter before you go. This will help with gas mileage in your car.
Have your local mechanic esure all fluids are topped off, and the washer fluid is the appropriate one for the area you are traveling to.
I once was driving from Las Vegas to Utah in the snow and went to use my windshield wiper fluid and it froze on my windshield. I had to do an ACE Ventura head out the window to drive to the next town to get it fixed. They had to thaw out the windshield wiper lines with a hairdryer and vinegar, then unplug them. This really cut into my total driving time and was a major stressor. So mention to your mechanic if you find you will be driving to different climates and what they suggest for those areas.
Plan for Gas Stops
Don’t push the car to the point the gas light comes on! I always make a rule for myself that should I take a long road trip where I have never been before I never let the tank get down past 1/4 tank. Even a 1/4 tank is pushing it for me, I typically will fill up at 1/2 tank because I know I will be able to drive for several hours to the next gas station.
Get On The Road Again
Road trips can be a fantastic way to make bonds with friends, and see new destinations. It is important to plan, stay safe and stay awake on the road. There are over 100,000 car accidents per year from people falling asleep at the wheel in the United States. Make sure you know your own limits on when you need a break, even if it is just a mental break. There are plenty of unique things you can see on the road, not every place has to be Instagram worthy. The best adventures will always be the locations that make you feel more fulfilled and productive in your daily life, spark your creativity or help you create a more meaningful connection.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales & See You On The Flip Side.