For many divers and non-divers alike, the idea of cave diving gives people the willies. A cave diver must undertake additional training that goes beyond recreational dive training. But there are many dive spots in Florida that are nowhere near the ocean that don’t necessarily require technical dive training (although more training never hurts).
That’s because Florida has a wealth of springs and sinkholes due to our porous bedrock and underground aquifer. Some of these form caverns that are popular recreational dive spots. Places like Blue Grotto, Blue Spring, King’s Spring, and Ginnie Springs offer cavern diving (not to be confused with cave diving), which involves diving in shallower water within sight of the surface and with minimal or no overhangs (basically, anything that blocks your way to the surface). Most of these same places also offer cave diving, which involves deeper dives, extensive overhangs, and special training and equipment.
Not long ago, I had the good fortune to visit Blue Grotto as part of a work assignment. Located in Williston, Florida, Blue Grotto is technically a flooded sinkhole with very clear water and a maximum depth of 100 feet. Blue Grotto has an upper and a lower cavern; the upper cavern is well-lit and expansive.
It also has fun little quirks like an underwater diving bell (if you want to take a break and chat with your buddy), a small mermaid statue, some fish, and a resident softshell turtle named Virgil. The lower cavern has a safety line to follow all the way down to the bottom, but it is very dark and deeper than beginning divers should go unless accompanied by a dive instructor!
Another great spot is Blue Spring, which offers both a vertical cavern and a cave that branches off from the cavern at a depth of around 100 feet. Again, divers without cave diving training must go no further than the cavern (and there is a sign warning you as much)! Blue Spring, which connects to the St. John’s River, also involves a relaxing drift dive (with lots of fish) back to the main spring area. Unlike Blue Grotto, however, you have to trek nearly half a mile with all of your equipment before you get to the put-in for the cavern dive, so this is a more physical dive.
Cavern diving (as opposed to cave diving) is a great alternative to saltwater diving, yet still falls into the realm of recreational diving for divers who are just looking for a fun day out – but are still mindful of safety, as always.
Photo credits: Christine Janesko