Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Diving and snorkeling on the offshore coral wrecks and reefs on a calm day can be comparable to the Caribbean. Chances are excellent you'll come face-to-face with a flood of tropical fish.
One option is to find Fowey, Triumph, Long, and Emerald reefs in 10- to 15-foot dives that are perfect for snorkelers and beginning divers. On the edge of the continental shelf a little more than 3 mi out, these reefs are just ¼ mi away from depths greater than 100 feet. Another option is to paddle around the tangled prop roots of the mangrove trees that line the coast, peering at the fish, crabs, and other creatures hiding there.

It's a bit of a drive, but the best diving and definitely the best snorkeling to be had in Miami-Dade is on the incredible living coral reefs in Biscayne Underwater Park (9710 SW 328th St., Exit 6 of Florida's Tpke., Homestead, 33033. 305/230-1100., in the rural southeast corner of the county. With 95% of its 173,000 acres underwater, this is the national-park system's largest marine park. The huge park includes the northernmost islands of the Florida Keys and the beginning of the world's third-longest coral reef. Guided snorkeling and scuba trips, offered from the concession near the visitor center, cost $35.95 for a three-hour snorkel trip (daily 1:30-4:30), including equipment, and $54 for a four-hour, two-tank dive trip (weekends 8:30-1). Scuba equipment is available for rent.

Artificial Reefs. Perhaps the area's most unusual diving options are its artificial reefs. Since 1981, Miami-Dade County's Department of Environmental Resources Management has sunk tons of limestone boulders and a water tower, army tanks, and almost 200 boats of all descriptions to create a "wreckreational" habitat where divers can swim with yellow tang, barracudas, nurse sharks, snapper, eels, and grouper. Most dive shops sell a book listing the locations of these wrecks. Information on wreck diving can be obtained from the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. 1920 Meridian Ave., Miami Beach, FL, 33139. 305/672-1270.

Divers Paradise of Key Biscayne. This complete dive shop and diving-charter service next to the Crandon Park Marina, includes equipment rental and scuba instruction with PADI and NAUI affiliation. Dive trips are offered Tuesday through Friday at 10 and 1, weekends 8:30 and 1:30. The trip is $60. 4000 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, FL, 33149. 305/361-3483.

South Beach Dive and Surf Center. The Discover Scuba course trains diving newcomers on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8 am at a PADI-affiliated dive shop. Advance classes follow at 9:45 am. Night dives take place each Wednesday at 4:30, and wreck and reef dives on Sundays at 7:30 am and noon. The center also runs dives in Key Largo's Spiegel Grove, the second-largest wreck ever to be sunk for the intention of recreational diving, and in the Neptune Memorial Reef, inspired by the city of Atlantis and created in part using the ashes of cremated bodies. Boats depart from marinas in Miami Beach and Key Largo, in the Florida Keys. 850 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, FL, 33139. 305/531-6110.

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