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Under the Sea: Snorkeling and Diving on the Gulf Coast

Some of Pensacola’s most incredible scenery is hidden beneath the waves.

There is an extensive artificial reef system on Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key perfect for snorkeling. Park East is located about 1.4 miles east of Portofino on Pensacola Beach. The reef on Perdido Key can be accessed from the public beach area off Sandy Key Drive. The reefs are located 500 ft. off shore and attract a wide variety of fish, sea turtles and all kinds of gulf wildlife.

For those who dive a little deeper, Pensacola Beach offers five sites along the Florida Panhandle Dive Trail. They include:

Three Coal Barges: Resting in less than 50 feet of water just a few miles from Pensacola’s coast, the Three Coal Barges wreckage creates a bridge of undersea habitat and is a great location for beginning divers to practice their skills. The story goes that in 1974, while en route to their offshore reef site, the three barges broke free from their transport. In an emergency operation, U.S. Navy demolition experts boarded the runaway barges and detonated explosives, sinking them in their present location before they washed ashore by rough seas.

San Pablo: A freighter ship that started her life in Ireland in 1915, the San Pablo was sunk 80 feet below the surface in 1944 by the U.S. military during top-secret World War II experimental weapon system testing. Her wreckage is scattered across the seafloor where divers can explore boilers, refrigeration coils and huge sections of twisted metal, all home to an impressive array of marine life.

Pete Tide II: Another local favorite, the Pete Tide II was a 180-foot oil field supply boat that was reefed in 1993. Only 12 miles south of Pensacola Pass, the Pete Tide II is intact and upright and is easy to penetrate, even for properly trained beginning wreck divers who want to explore along with sea turtles, triggerfish, schools of red snapper and amberjack, and even the occasional mahi mahi, wahoo and blackfin tuna.

YDT-14: One of two U.S. Navy diving tenders sunk in April 2000. Divers can explore the ship’s upper structure at around 65 feet, home to resident barracudas, and then descend to her waterline at 100 feet.

“The Mighty O”: The USS Oriskany has quickly become the scuba world’s latest “must dive.” The retired 911-foot U.S. Navy aircraft carrier sits upright on a sandy bottom, 212 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico about 24 miles southeast of Pensacola Pass. Divers from as far as Australia, Japan, Sweden and Russia have returned from the depths singing the praises of the “Mighty O,” and CNN dubbed the wreck “the great carrier reef.” The USS Oriskany is accessible by divers at every skill level. Her “crown” or island can be approached at 78 feet in emerald-clear water where visibility averages 70 to 150-plus feet. The Oriskany holds prolific sea life from tiny sponges to hoss-daddy red snapper to sneaky sharks. It’s just one of hundreds of reefs and wrecks that dot the vast underwater seascape.

In addition to the Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, several other local dive sites are accessible to divers of various skill levels including the USS Massachusetts, located just 25 feet down about 1.5 miles from shore, and the 400-foot freighter Antares in Pensacola Pass - a favorite spearfishing destination.

So dive in and explore Florida history and wildlife along the Emerald Coast!

Pensacola Beach offers five sites along the Florida Panhandle Dive Trail, including several shipwrecks and the USS Oriskany.
Get close to the wildlife that hides beneath the surface. The Gulf of Mexico has an amazing and varied ecosystem with thousands of native species.
In addition to the Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, several other local dive sites are accessible to divers of various skill levels and are open for diving and spearfishing.

 

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