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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”.
It had only been a few months since I was in Florida last, diving at Devils Den and swimming with Manatees in Crystal River Florida. My first Ocean dive was in Cabo San Lucas, and that was incredibly nerve wracking. So I decided on this dive, to box up my anxiety into a tight package, and put it in my diving bag with my sunglasses.
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.
Where to Stay Near West Palm Beach
Things To Do Near West Palm Beach
Salt-water fishing, Snorkeling, Parasialing, Jet Skiing, Biking, Kayaking tours of Munyon Island and John D McAruthur State Park, Water Taxi Tours with plenty of restaurants and nightlife to choose from.
What To Pack For Diving in West Palm Beach
Photo Stick, Snorkel, Diving Knife, GoPro, Sea Life 1000, Shortie Wetsuit (Summer), Dive Light, Reef Safe SunScreen