Tampa Bay is a large estuary and natural harbor on the western coast of Florida. The Bay opens up into the beautiful warm, calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The northern and southern shores outside the bay entrance are made up of sandbar islands with amazing white sand beaches famous in the area. The potential for diving offshore the many barrier islands and out in the Gulf waters is endless.
The Tampa Bay itself is very shallow averaging about 12 feet (3.7 m). It is fed by several freshwater rivers that dump into the bay mixing with the salty water of the Gulf of Mexico. This shallow, disturbed brackish environment is interesting for kayaking but not scuba diving. In the bay you can see Bottlenose dolphin, West Indian manatee, brown pelicans and many other bird species. The Tampa Bay's geologic history is interesting, the bay was a freshwater lake during the last ice age fed by freshwater springs and rivers, once the ice melted sea level rose and flooded the bay. There is evidence that than ancient, large sinkhole near the mouth of the bay helps to account for the largest open bay on Florida's extensive coastline. The river sediments and time has filled over most of the surficial evidence of its past.
The tourism industry is very strong in the state of Florida and the Tampa Bay area is no exception. Most of the towns along the white sand beaches rely heavily on the tourism industry. There are countless businesses catering to watersport adventure with steep competition between the many charter boats waiting to schedule deep sea fishing and scuba trips. There are major interstates, highways and roads as well as beautiful bridges to get you where you need to be. This area is gorgeous and well kept and ready to show you, the tourist, a great time.
Tampa Bay hosts Sea World's Busch Gardens, an amazing amusement park that is similar to Orlando's Disney mania without the crowds, prices or fluff. There are also top notched golf courses and resorts in the bay area. The Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Aquarium are all worth the effort.
The Gulf waters off the white sandy beaches of the bay area are notoriously warmer than the Atlantic waters on the eastern shores of Florida. Gulf water temperatures off Tampa average 63 degrees F in January rising to about 86 degrees F in August. Air temperatures in the Tampa area average 60 degrees F in January rising to an average of 82 degrees F in August. This is an ideal climate, especially along the coast the Gulf breeze prevents the summers from cooking like the interior of Florida and the waters in the summer feel like a warm bath. As far as swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving Tampa Bay you do not need a wetsuit for most of the year.
The Tampa Bay area is famous for its warm water and amazing sunsets. Wildlife in and out of the water is diverse. Florida's manatee take advantage of the extensive Intracoastal Waterway that is a network of coves and waterways between the bay and the gulf. Bottlenose dolphin and the many marine birds frequent the quiet backwaters that also are home to thousands of docks and piers for the many private, public and commercial boats. The best dives are well offshore so find a good dive shop and charter a boat out beyond the barrier islands.
There are many good wreck dives off the Gulf coast of Tampa Bay. The USCG Blackthorn is found in 80 feet of water at Pinellas #2 Artificial Reef Site about 10 miles offshore from Clearwater beach. The ship was a buoy tender, rescue ship and ice breaker since its launch in 1944. After renovations in the yards of Tampa Bay the 108 foot Blackthorn hit the 605 foot SS Capricorn freighter sinking the ship, the tender was pulled up and beyond repair it was laid to rest at Pinellas Reef. The vessel is mostly upside down but is a great site to explore. It is common to see Goliath grouper, Red snapper, mackerel, schools of spadefish and the magnificant whale shark is known to visit this advanced dive site. Another wreck is The Sheridan that also lies on the artificial reef known as Pinellas #2. The 180 foot tugboat sits almost upright and its top is only 25 feet from the waters surface. Huge groupers make the wreck their home and it is common to see mackerel, Crevelle jack and the occasional reef shark.
There are other interesting wreck dives like the Gunsmoke, a marijuana smuggling vessel wrecked in 1977 about 20 miles offshore. This advanced dive is in 70 feet of water and while visibility is not always the best it is an interesting dive that gets you well offshore. The story and intrigue behind the wreck will lure you in and it is said that government divers found a man's body inside the abandoned old shrimp boat when it was discovered.
The wreck dive site far offshore west of Tarpon Springs, Florida is known as Tugboat and Barge. The 105 foot upright tug and 80 foot barge sank in 85 feet of water during high seas and are about one mile from one another. This advanced dive is a far offshore but worth the trip. A wreck dive that is close to shore in just 38 feet of water is the tugboat known as Ghost Tug. This 50 feet long tug is home to some big Jewfish another name for Atlantic goliath grouper and schools of Atlantic spadefish. Because it is so shallow it is a great place for underwater photography of the wreck and marine life.
Shore diving off the many barrier islands of Tampa Bay area is popular for scuba divers and snorkelers. A childhood favorite of mine is Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach. St. Pete Beach Reef and Tug Orange are two worthy shore dives very close off Petersburg Beach for scuba divers or snorkelers to explore. St. Pete Beach Reef has sections of an old bridge, a barge, coral and lots of fish. Tug Orange to its south is a small wreck that is a great place to swim with schools of game fish giving a chance to watch them in the water when they are off the hook. This is also a spearfishing paradise.
The beaches of the barrier islands of Sarasota, Clearwater, Treasure Island and Dunedin also offer offshore exploration and snorkeling fun especially ideal for beginners or casual dives. Regardless of what you do in the day around Tampa Bay do not miss talking a peaceful walk on the beaches at night after the pastel sunsets of western Florida.
Divers interested in diving off the Tampa Bay coast into the warm, calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico there are three international airports. The largest and probably the least expensive especially for international or transcontinental flights is Tampa International Airport (TPA) in the western part of the city of Tampa. This is a great place to rent a car and head towards the many barrier islands and resorts that line the coast. Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport are also great options to consider when checking for flights. There are also over a dozen regional and municipals airports for private planes arriving into the Tampa Bay area.
There are many dive shops in the Tampa Bay area. Jim's Dive Shop is a great shop in St. Petersburg as well as Aquatic Obsessions that both are friendly shops that offer scuba classes, excursions and help to organize local divers and dive clubs.
In Tampa there is the dive shop Adventures Under the Sea that offer some scuba instruction online and of course offer open water certification in person. The shop offers dives in the gulf and at some inland freshwater locations. South of the bay in the town of Bradenton there is the dive shop Blue Water Explorers. This scuba shack, as they call themselves, specializes in offshore gulf dives and spearfishing. It is one of the biggest charters of the area and offers charters to over a 100 different dives.
The Clearwater area north of the bay offers many dive shops some of the few that are top rated include Tanks A Lot Dive Charters, 2 Shea Charters and Dive Clearwater. All three of these shops offer scuba charters. Dive Clearwater offers charters to the many wreck dives off the coast and also specializes in spearfishing.
Further north from Clearwater up the coast is the town of Tarpon Springs. There are a lot of offshore dives directly off Tarpon and the marine traffic is reduced. A highly recommended scuba diving shop in Tarpon is Narcosis Scuba. This shop offers boat excursion to the many wrecks and ledges and gets you away - a bit - from the more crowded tourist towns of the barrier islands and Tampa itself.
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I have been diving for over 5 years. I was diving with John Russell while he was certifying a class. After reporting the following things, he is no longer certified with PADI (put in diver number 40957 at http://www.padi.com/scuba/prochek/Default.aspx): 1) Diving in a restricted area. There were plenty of signs that said the bacteria content was too high too swim. He disregarded my comments that it wasn't a place to go diving. 2) Poorly maintained equipment. My secondary was filled with sand a...
The Tampa Bay area is famous for its warm water and amazing sunsets. Wildlife in and out of the water is diverse. Florida's manatee take advantage of the extensive Intracoastal Waterway that is a netw...
Divers interested in diving off the Tampa Bay coast into the warm, calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico there are three international airports. The largest and probably the least expensive especially for...
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