Diving in a Winter Wonderland

By: Kerry Freeland / Dive Pros

Some might say the diving season is over, but I have had some of my best dives during this time of the year. The cooler months usher in our winter diving season. At depth, the Gulf of Mexico retains its warmth, and there is much less pressure on the reefs from divers, as well as from fishermen.

The water becomes clearer. As the lower air temperatures cool the surface waters of the Gulf, the algae and other free-swimming microorganisms disperse, leaving the northern Gulf of Mexico with better visibility. The tourist season has slowed, and I find more time to do some recreational diving. The Gulf is still very alive with many species making fall migrations. There is still a lot of baitfish in the water and the tarpon, redfish, the sharks and the birds take full advantage of their presence. On the bottom the Lionfish start to move offshore, and the flounder make their way into the Gulf from the bays and estuaries. An appropriate exposure suit is all that is necessary to enjoy our winter diving. Our bottom temperatures in the winter are close to the bottom temperatures on the west coast of the united states, during the summer, their warmest temperatures. Yes, indeed we don’t have it bad here on the Gulf Coast.

Adding to the myriad of diving opportunities are numerous freshwater springs throughout northern and central Florida. These freshwater springs, with their constant seventy-degree water, feel cool in the summer, but in the winter months they can feel pretty warm. It really is a matter of perspective. I take this time of year to explore some of the different springs throughout the state. Florida is peppered with these freshwater springs that burst up out of the ground and provide a beautiful pool of clear water with local fauna, and the spring run that gives one a good bit of area to explore. In my cave diving days, I used to love to take that exploration a step further. I would swim past the cavern areas to the no light zone. Here I would find fossils embedded into the walls of the cave, and who knows what on the tops of the occasional debris cone, where the roof of the cave has collapsed and given the surface dwellers a convenient place to discard just about anything. I have old license plates and pull-tab beer cans from these quaint little trash piles.

This is also manatee season. No, they are not in season, this is the time of year that they move out from the Gulf of Mexico and into the springs of central Florida. The cooling Gulf temperatures cause the manatee to migrate inland to the springs and associated rivers where the water temperature remains a constant seventy degrees. The manatee take refuge in these waters during the winter. During colder weather events they will move into these springs so that they resemble stacks of cordwood. There may be literally hundreds of them huddled around one or two spring heads during the cold spell. Manatee are protected and should not be harassed or chased. It is illegal to pursue one or to reach out to touch it, but, if you are patient, they will often swim right up to you and roll over and want to be scratched. Just wait for it.

Dive Pros in Pensacola puts together Manatee Safaris every year and I try to participate in at least one each year. I would go more often but having to work does thwart those grandiose plans. I love to get in the water and just watch them. It becomes a magical experience when one of them decides they would like to have a little interaction with you.

In addition to the Manatee Safaris, Dive Pros is scheduling South Florida trips that will allow you to once again enjoy the warmer waters. In January, over Martin Luther King Day, we will dive out of Pomano Beach, they have a three-tiered reef system there that is just beautiful. Some of these divers will be going on to dive with sharks. Dive Pros is also planning trips to the Middle Keys in March which will havewreck and reef dives leaving out of our own North American tropical islands.

As you can see there is no shortage of diving opportunities to be had during the winter months. We can fit you with an exposure suit that will allow you to get out and enjoy these dives in comfort. Get out there yourself this year and take advantage of the great trips we have to offer.

Don’t be one of those fair-weather divers. Give your shop a call, give Dive Pros a call, or check out our club, 3rd Coast Divers, on facebook to see what exciting winter diving you could get into. We will be right there with you.

For more information, contact Dive Pros at #850-456-8845