Florida's Top 5 Offshore Dive Sites: And How you Can Help Protect Them this November & Beyond
Responsible Travel USA

Top 5 Offshore Dive Sites in Florida: And How to Protect Them this November & Beyond

Unless you have been living under a rock recently, you’re probably aware that the General Midterm Elections in the U.S. are taking place on November 6th. Given our current political situation, it’s more important now than ever to not only vote, but to also be an informed voter.

This especially true in Florida where voters will be deciding on 12 proposed amendments to the state constitution (there were originally 13 before the Florida Supreme Court removed Amendment 8 from the ballot as it was deemed misleading and deceptive). And one amendment in particular, Amendment 9, has the potential to greatly impact the health of our beloved oceans with the threat of offshore drilling if this amendment is not passed.

Amendment 9 States:

“Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces
Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances”

Your first thought may be how are offshore drilling and vaping related? The point is, they’re not. Like the banished Amendment 8, the majority of the proposed amendments can be quite confusing since they bundle unrelated topics into one packaged amendment – where voters can not approve of one while rejecting the other.

A Yes vote on 9 would ban people from vaping in enclosed work places. This would simply update an amendment that the majority of voters already approved back in 2002 (when vaping hadn’t been yet invented) to ban tobacco smoking in work places, restaurants and indoor areas. Problem solved – next!

To help dig deeper into the issue of off shore drilling I sat down with Bailey Rowland – PADI Open Water Instructor and General Manager of Atlantic Pro Divers in Jacksonville Beach, FL to find out her favorite dive spots and how Floridians can protect them on November 6th as well as how Florida locals and visitors alike can further help protect our ocean beyond the voting booth.

Bailey Rowland is a certified PADI Open Water Instructor

LMT: As a native Floridian, what are your favorite dive spots in your home state?

BR: That’s a hard one because they’re so many. I love Florida diving because each region has something unique to offer.

  • In northeast Florida, a favorite is definitely the S.S. Gulf America which is a shipwreck turned reef about 5 miles offshore of Jacksonville. She was an American steam tanker during WWII that was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German Submarine who was able to locate the ship because of the lights from the resorts in Jax Beach that failed to obey the blackout during the war. I love this dive because of the history, I don’t think many people realize how close the war actually came to the shores of Florida
  • In Southeast Florida, one of my favorites is the Blue Heron Bridge off the coast of Riviera Beach, also known as Phil Foster Park. In 2013 it was chosen as the best dive site in the world by PADI’s Sport Diver Magazine. I love this dive because of all of the marine life you can find there like octopus and sea horses. There’s also a snorkel trail so you don’t have to be certified to enjoy it.
A School of Rays at Blue Heron Bridge.
Photo Courtesy of reefs.com
  • Another favorite in this area is Captain Kirles Reef off the coast of Jupiter. This shallow reef is good for beginners and is great for spotting moray eels, nurse sharks and sea turtles.
  • In the Florida Keys, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park off of Key Largo is a must! It was the first underwater park in the U.S. and is famous for the “Christ of the Abyss” – a statue of Jesus with outstretched arms – makes for great underwater photography.
Christ of the Abyss at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Photo Courtesy of On the Beach Water Sports
  • And off of the Florida Panhandle I recommend the USS Oriskany near Pensacola. This purposely sunken aircraft carrier is now the world’s largest artificial reef known as the “Great Carrier Reef.”
A sunken aircraft carrier is now the world’s largest artificial reef known as “The Great Carrier Reef”
photo courtesy of Atlas Obsura

LMT: To help protect these sites as well as other ocean habitats, why is it important for Floridians to vote YES on Amendment 9 on November 6th to ban offshore drilling?

BR: Everything about offshore drilling is bad for marine life, even if there isn’t a catastrophic spill like with BP in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010. Just the way they locate the oil, using seismic waves is harmful. These waves can interfere with migrations patterns of whales and certain fish. It has even said to be the cause of mass whale beachings.

Not to mention, the machinery on the rigs themselves burn off harmful gases like methane that contribute to climate change, further damaging our oceans.

Voting Yes to ban offshore drilling is so important. It will send the right message to our state government that Floridans care about our natural resources and that we demand more options for clean energy.

LMT: Besides Turning up at the voting booth, how else can Floridians as well as visitors help protect marine life?

BR: It’s really important that everyone visiting these sites adopt environmentally friendly diving practices such as:

  • Mastering buoyancy – in diving buoyancy refers to keeping your body evenly balanced so that you’re swimming along horizontally without your fins and other body parts dragging and disrupting fragile reefs or the ocean floor. You can master buoyancy by controlling your breath, using the correct weights and monitoring the amount of air in your BCD. It gets easier with practice!
  • Don’t touch anything (even if wearing gloves) and definitely don’t remove anything from the dive site like coral, shells or marine life. Take only pictures, leave only bubbles!
  • Be respectful – don’t grab at or chase marine life as it can cause stress on the animals
  • Don’t feed the marine life – it could be tempting to attract fish near you but this can really disrupt their natural diets
  • No littering of any kind – and pick up trash, especially plastic, if you see it
  • Don’t clean your gear near the marine environments as runoff from the cleaning supplies can be harmful
  • Choose responsible dive operators to ensure they have their proper licensing and follow ethical practices – you can do this by reading google reviews

LMT: Is there anything people can do outside of the water?

BR: Absolutely! You can start by becoming a responsible shopper. When shopping for sun screen make sure it doesn’t contain the ingredient oxybenzone, which can kill reefs. Instead opt for brands like Raw Love Sunscreen

Click Here for Travel & Leisure’s List of Reef-Safe Sunscreens

Also avoid buying ocean products such as conch shells at souvenir shops and home decor places – these types of mollusks play extremely important roles in ocean ecosystems.

Locals should also volunteer their time. Most beach communities regularly organize beach clean-ups or volunteer programs to help sea turtle hatchlings find their way back to the ocean as the light pollution from the shore can cause them to lose their way.

As for visitors – they should keep visiting! Visit Florida’s beaches and support the local businesses there – eat at the seafood restaurants and participate in recreational marine tourism (*cough* *cough* like visiting a local dive shop). As long as the tourism dollars keep coming in, the Florida government will have more incentive to protect the natural resources that attract our visitors in the first place.

Eventually the oil will dry up and the big oil companies will move on to the next place, leaving behind irreparable damage. Supporting businesses that rely on clean healthy oceans is not only the right thing to do, it’s more economically sustainable. So it doesn’t really make sense when people say that oil drilling will create jobs – especially in Florida. We already have thousands of tourism related jobs thanks to our beautiful ocean.

“According to floridatoday.com an ocean advocacy group estimated that oil drilling along Florida’s coast could put at risk almost 610,000 jobs and 37.4 billion in economic activity”

LMT: If people are inspired to take action, are there any organizations that you suggest they get involved with? 

BR: They are so many organizations out there that are dedicated to helping protect marine life and promoting ocean conservation but two that come to mind are Project Aware and Sea Shepherds.

  • Project Aware is a nonprofit organization focused on divers that want to make a difference. They have several campaigns that divers can get involved with such as their adopt a dive site through their Divers Against Debris program. They also do a lot of work with shark conservation and marine litter.   

To Learn More Click Here                                                                                                     

  • Sea Shepherds is a nonprofit marine conservation organization that is dedicated to organizing direct action campaigns to defend wildlife and protect the world’s oceans from illegal exploitation and environmental destruction.

To Learn More Click Here

Also! Please take a moment to fill out a petition through change.org to End Collection & Removal of Marine Life from Phil Foster Park (aka Blue Heron Bridge that I mentioned earlier) by Tropical Fish Collectors!

Recently tropical fish collectors were spotted legally taking marine species from the site – just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. Please help us get a complete ban from both commercial and hobbyist tropical fish collection.

Click Here to End Marine Life Removal from Phil Foster Park

So there you have it! If you are a Floridian who cares about the very thing that makes our state so special, vote YES on Amendment 9. If you’re not a Floridian, you now have more reason to visit. 

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