If I dare to call it as such… We had some great winter diving here in Palm Beach today. Granted, we didn’t have to cut through the ice to get to our dive spots or don our dry suits. But with a brisk air temperature in the sixties and a north-western breeze it’s as close to winter diving as we get here in Florida. One of the perks of living in the southern latitudes. 

We bagan the day by motoring to our southern reefs with a diverse group of divers. Some were locals and some were from the (real!) wintry north. While conversations about such things as diving in Alaska entertained us, Capt. Walker motored Sirena to our first dive site, the Fish Bowl, part of Flower Gardens reef. 

The water appeared crystal blue and upon our giant stride into the warm 78 degree water it was apparent. “If you’re afraid of heights don’t look down!”, I mentioned to the divers. We could see all the way to the bottom sixty feet below us.

There was barely a trickle of a north current and the fish action was as busy as always at the Fish Bowl. Eels of all sorts greeted the divers. Flamingo tongues were a delightful discovery on the stalks of soft coral. And, of course, all the beautiful tropical fish on Flower Gardens kept the smile on the divers face throughout the dive. 

Half way through the dive I veered off the ledge in an easterly direction when much to my surprise a small turtle appeared in the distance. It’s glowing complexion and uniquely shaped body giving away its identification. It was a rare Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle! We don’t see very many of these in this area. I swam at a distance not to scare it away and let it get used to the noisy, bubble-making hitchhiker. Slowly I closed the distance while the turtle leisurely swam south. While the current wasn’t strong, I was certainly not as hydrodynamic in the water as this little marvel of a turtle. I was huffing and puffing through my regulator! I began to shoot video thinking the turtle would soon tire of me.

Up it went for a quick breath and on its return back down the Kemp’s Ridley caught its second wind and left me in the dust. Overall, the encounter lasted a few minutes and I probably spent just as much time dancing underwater in celebration of this very special encounter.

Traveling on the eastern side of the reef, I stopped at one spot to take a photo and in the span of a minute numerous tropical fish swam in and out of the frame of my photograph. It was a tropical fish drive thru! Cue in the Great Hammerhead shark, I thought to myself. Without moving I had taken a dozen photographs with a different set of fish in it. It was a though they all wanted their photographs taken. Sometimes the ocean denizens work in  mysterious way.

Back on the boat and after a relaxing surface interval we slowly motored our way to Four Windows on Breaker’s reef. Breaker’s reef is always spectacular but under these crystal clear conditions it is nothing short of breathtaking. With colorful sponges, soft corals and a menagerie of brightly colored fish under a dappling of splendid blue, nature is certainly showing off her best here. 

Ton’s of fish covered the reef, a large green moray swam from crevice to crevice, and a hawksbill sea turtle, who unfortunately was missing a flipper, but appearing quite healthy was busy searching for a tasty sponge on which to feed. Once again I found myself exploring the eastern side of Breaker’s reef.

Mixed within all the beauty of this place were signs of man’s doing. A plastic bag was wrapped around a soft coral. This is a common sight. Many people don’t understand the dangers these plastics can inflict on the natural world. These plastic bags bind themselves around the coral and will eventually kill it. Any turtle who might think it has come upon a jellyfish will feed on the plastic bag and block the turtle’s digestion. Making the turtle starve to death. Please be responsible with plastic bags and balloons (!!!) as they are one of the main culprits for the death of so many creatures. Don’t forget to reduce, reuse, and recycle!

Our two dives today were nothing short of spectacular. With clear skies, warm water temperatures, 50-60 feet of visibility and a world of marine creatures to discover, it was certainly great winter diving — Palm Beach style!

Video of a rare Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle:

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