May 24th, 2019
The treasures of The Palm Beaches extend far beyond the shore. Local blogger and Florida naturalist, Mandy Mizell, takes us on a tour of some of the best scuba diving sites in the region.
The coast of The Palm Beaches is like no other in the world of diving. The third-largest barrier reef on Earth brushes by just a few miles offshore, while a host of biological events draw marine biologists, videographers and avid divers to our warm waters.
Every season brings a new cast of marine characters, from lemon sharks in the winter to sea turtles in the spring and summer to goliath groupers in August and September. With the help of local guides and outfitters, divers of every level can experience these underwater wonders. Ranging from natural geological features to artificial reefs teeming with tropical fish, here are six dive sites to explore in The Palm Beaches.
This is a deep drift dive that runs parallel to the Juno Beach shore, ranging 60-90 feet in depth. It’s home to mysterious creatures befitting its cryptic name, but many local divers and fishermen have their own ideas about how Area 51 came to be named. Some say it’s because it’s 51 minutes from the dock, while others claim it’s better than 31 flavors of ice cream, with a wide array of marine life.
The fractured reef wall of Area 51 provides crevices for extraterrestrial-like critters such as eels and frogfish. It’s an excellent spot to witness the lemon shark migration between December and March which gives Jupiter renown in the dive world. Lemon sharks congregate as here they migrate from the Carolinas to the warm Gulf Stream waters that sweep the coast of Palm Beach County, and divers claim to have seen as many as 50 sharks on a single descent!
Located just off Jupiter Inlet, Tunnels is known as “the Mecca of Jupiter diving.” This site is a reef ledge that lets divers encounter both playful tropical fish and shy, dark-dwelling beasts such as goliath groupers and reef sharks. The namesake limestone burrows are wide and quick to pass through, making it a comfortable adventure for the novice cave diver. The entryways of each tunnel are often guarded by schooling permit and spadefish. As you exit the first tunnel, the site opens to “The Amphitheater,” a wide arena with a sandy bottom that is home to large burrowing southern stingrays. At the southern edge of the reef is a feature known as “The Donut Hole.” Divers enter at the bottom of the ledge among napping loggerhead sea turtles, then ascend by following a beam of blue light through a limestone chimney. Upon your ascent, you will be greeted by a vibrant reef habitat on top of the ledge.
The Corridor Wreck Trek
The Corridor is a deep drift dive composed of five wrecks starting just north of Palm Beach Inlet. First in line is the Ana Cecilia, a 170-foot freighter that lies upright in 85 feet of water. After 43 years of operation, the Ana Cecilia was seized in 2015 when federal agents found 413kg of cocaine smuggled back from Haiti. In 2016, Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management sunk the ship as an addition to the artificial reef system. It quickly became a gathering place for goliath groupers, which can weigh up to 800 pounds.
After exploring this wreck, divers can drift north to the Mizpah, a Greek luxury liner that was scuttled in 1968. Other dive sites on the Wreck Trek include a military patrol craft, PC1174, the 441-foot Amaryllis and the inverted 80-foot China Barge, followed by concrete rubble known as Brazilian Docks. The Corridor is a great location to see nurse sharks and brightly colored residents such as the queen angelfish.
The newest addition to Palm Beach County’s artificial reef system is 1000 Mermaids, located just south of the Port of Palm Beach. This eco-art project is currently composed of 18 mermaid statues that were sunk in August 2019. Each mermaid is made by body casting and created with sustainable concrete. The goal of the project is to sink a total of 1,000 statues to support environmental education, ecotourism and local fisheries. The statues are equipped with Coral Lok plugs, allowing coral fragments to adhere to the statues and grow. Since this is a new reef system, it will be an exciting dive to frequent in future years—you’ll be able to watch 1000 Mermaids evolve into a thriving reef with every dive trip to The Palm Beaches.
Tumbled Rocks is situated 1 mile off the shore of Gulfstream, a small coastal town near Boynton Beach. As its name suggests, the site is composed of sand-tumbled limestone rocks broken off of the Boynton Ledge. This location suits all diving levels, offering great visibility with a maximum depth of 69 feet. It’s close to Boynton Inlet, where the brackish water of Lake Worth Lagoon meets the salty Atlantic. The mixing of salt- and freshwater makes it optimal breeding ground for colorful sponges. The rocks serve as a substrate for an underwater garden composed of large barrel sponges, sea whips, sea fans and other soft corals. Tumbled Rocks is dominated by vibrant yellow tube sponges and purple gorgonians that serve as a habitat for mini invertebrates like the brittle sea star.
The M/V Castor is a wreck situated off the southern coast of Boynton Beach. It reaches a maximum depth of 110 feet and its length extends just beyond 250 feet. The doors and hatches have been removed to allow for safe penetration of the ship. Like the Ana Cecilia, this vessel has a sordid past, having served as one of 10 ships in a fleet owned by a Colombian drug lord. It was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in 1999 and became an addition to the Florida Artificial Reef Program in 2001. The compartments of the cargo ship provide secluded areas for goliath groupers to hide. The depth and seclusion of the site also attracts other large, rare marine animals. The elusive sunfish, also known as the mola mola, has been known to swim around this wreck. Manta rays and great white sharks have also been spotted by divers here.
Source: The Palm Beaches