Tag Archives: Blue Spring State Park

Cavern Diving: Yes. – Cave Diving: Nope!

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Cavern Diving: Yes. – Cave Diving: Nope!

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 GrottoBlue 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.

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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.

DivingBellIt 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

A Manatee Christmas

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A Manatee Christmas

Here are a few natural things I associate with the holiday season: tangerines in my stocking (or now my kids’ stockings), fresh-squeezed orange juice from a backyard tree, and the chance to see manatees in one of our local springs.

Winter is manatee-viewing season because when the temperature drops, manatees seek the constant 72-degree waters of the springs. As big as they are, West Indian Manatees are sensitive to cold, and it’s a contributing factor to their status as an endangered species. (Other factors are injuries from boats and sadly, a mysterious ailment and a red tide this year that resulted in record manatee deaths).

During periods of colder weather (when the water drops below about 68 degrees Fahrenheit), large numbers of manatees congregate in places like Blue Spring on the East Coast and Crystal River/Homosassa Springs on the West Coast. During cold snaps, you can also find groups of them gathered in the waters next to power plants since power plants constantly pump out warm water.

There’s even a Manatee Viewing Center operated in part by the Tampa Electric Company, which is also a great place to see Tarpon and fiddler crabs and learn about native plants like mangrove trees.

ManateeBecause manatees seek protection in our warmer, inland waters and are by default in close proximity to people, there are protections in place to keep manatees safe and free from harassment. In most places in Florida, people are not allowed to touch manatees. In Blue Spring during the winter season (November 15 through March 15), there is no swimming, snorkeling, diving, or boating allowed, but you can walk out on the docks and watch them float by.

The exception to this rule is Crystal River, where people are allowed to swim with manatees, and there are many charter snorkeling and dive trips allowing tourists to see manatees up close.  There’s some controversy about this exception (as recently reported in this National Geographic article), but it’s a big tourist draw, and people are curious about these gentle giants.

Manatees are revered as well as endangered, and if you look closely, you will find manatee images all over Florida. They’re an integral part of natural Florida and easy to spot during the winter. If you’re in Florida, go see some sea cows this holiday season.