From the Shallows to the Deep
Diving along Pensacola Beach isn’t just for the adventurous and fearless, if all you want to do is throw on your mask and snorkel to search for sand dollars you’ve come to the right place. The Gulf Of Mexico has great visibility more often than not and our twice per day minimal tide change won’t have you fighting crazy currents. While we have several artificial reefs accessible from the shoreline, our real gems are found in the depths of the deep. From barges and tugs, to battleships and freighters, even an aircraft carrier – – Pensacola Beach is home to some of the world’s best offshore wrecks.
The stories behind the vessels are just as fascinating as the dives themselves. The San Pablo, a fruit transport ship sunk by a German U-Boat torpedo in WWII off the coast of Costa Rica was refloated and enjoyed a few more years afloat before making her final resting place a few miles south of Fort Pickens. Recently declassified documents reveal a top secret U.S. military weapons test scattered her wreckage across the sea floor. Now an expert diver’s dream, you’ll have to ask your dive charter captain to take you to the “Russian Freighter,” as she is now known by locals.
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Bring Your Snorkel, Fins, and Mask
(Or we’ll have them waiting for you)
While we don’t want you to mistake our artificial reefs for the natural ones of the Keys or Bahamas, you can see history in the making only feet from our sugar white sandy shores. Over 700 artificial reef structures have been deployed in our waters since 2018 funded by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Behind the effort are funds allocated for environmental recovery from the BP Oil Spill of 2013.
Timing is key with many things in life, and you’ll need to check the weather and water clarity before you go. If you’re here on a calm clear day, you can experience an abundance of marine life circling the artificial reefs. Constructed of concrete discs covered in natural limestones, these reefs grow over time as living organisms attach themselves to the structures. You can find sea turtles, stingrays, pompano and a variety of other fish species depending on the season. When the seas are at their calmest is your best chance for visibility and easy access. Don’t forget to bring your dive flag when you snorkel these reefs to alert boats that there are swimmers in the water.
NAUI or PADI Certified?
If you’re a seasoned diver with current certification, hiring a dive charter is your ticket to underwater adventure and exploration of our emerald waters. We’ve got 5 major shipwrecks to explore varying in depth and intensity. We’ve also got some secret or not so secret live bottom areas as well, but the creme de la creme lies 22 miles southeast of Casino Beach. The USS Oriskany is the only aircraft carrier in history to be intentionally sunk for a reef project, and holds the record for the largest artificial reef in the world. Dubbed the “Great Carrier Reef” in a nod to its natural Australian counterpart, the Oriskany is a bucket list dive.
Coming back toward the Fort Pickens Pass, we’ve got four more sunken vessels to explore. You’ll never forget the experience of swimming through the pilot deck of the Pete Tide II surrounded by thousands of Snapper and Spadefish, or the heartbeat skipping brush with a 12 foot hammerhead as it gracefully exits the superstructure. You can hit two wrecks in the same day or spend the week with us and tackle them all. Traveling with dive gear is not necessary as we’ve got the best rental gear around, available at our world class dive shops. And much like our unwritten slogan on the beach, “Take your time, leave only footprints,” when you’re in the water it’s important to remember “Take pictures, leave only bubbles.”
Check our Beach Report for the latest forecast and book your trip!