We are always praising the wonders of diving in Palm Beach, Florida, and I think we do so with good reason. Diving in Palm Beach is hard to beat! Amazing marine life encounters, gorgeous reefs, and the ease of drift diving top the list.
Having our reefs just a mile offshore and north of numerous metropolitan areas the visibility can be challenging some times when there is a lot of runoff from excess rain. Thankfully, we have the Gulf Stream cruising pretty close to shore here on Florida’s (topographical) ‘elbow’ before it heads further offshore. The Gulf Stream pushes water along at an average of 4 miles per hour. Thankfully, we do not get those kinds of drifting currents during our dives. Instead the Gulf Stream spawns eddies that are partially responsible for dictating conditions on our reefs.
Visibility averages in the 45-60 foot range with plenty of 100+ feet of visibility–especially in the summer time. While this certainly doesn’t compare to almost constant 100+ feet of visibility in places like Mexico, remember that for marine creatures to thrive there has to be nutrients in the water. Some of the richest coral reef systems in the world average our same range of visibility.
For those of you experienced enough in Palm Beach diving, you probably know all to well of our occasional cold water upwellings–particularly during the summer months. We can be diving in a soothing 80+ degree water temperature for weeks and suddenly, without warning, we giant stride ourselves into freezer-like temperatures. Water temperatures as low as the 50’s are sometimes experienced. Conditions can fool even the most seasoned dive professional–visibility can be 100+ feet with warm water on the surface. All the while, a couple of feet below, that frosty, shimmering water prevails. Dive in head first and it’s got a wake-up kick stronger than 10 cups of Cuban espresso! Luckily, these cold water upwellings leave within a day or two. Visibility sometimes diminishes for a couple of days after the upwelling leaves.
This has been the story a couple of times this summer in Palm Beach. Many of the seasoned locals are saying they never recall having so many upwellings in one summer. Is this being caused by global warming or by some aliens living at abyssal depth just offshore of Palm Beach? Who knows for certain? But since the upwelling two weeks ago conditions have not returned to normal. Water temperatures are back in the 80s, but the visibility has gone south (with the reverse current!).
Perhaps we should be applying Ockham’s Razor to this questions… The simplest answer is usually the correct one! Look to the center of the state and a recurring problem with Lake Okeechobee has escalated to awful extremes. North of us in the St. Lucie river and estuary, things are not looking too good. Billions of gallons of fresh water, tainted with agricultural runoff (compliments in a big part to Florida’s sugar industry) and numerous other human pollutants, are being dumped DAILY in this very important ecological area. Animal and human life are being affected in a very negative way. And can you guess where all this polluted water ends up?
DING… DING… DING!!
If you guessed the OCEAN, you are correct!
Now consider those eddies swirling around the area. It wouldn’t take much to dump these waters back our way; especially with the southern currents we have experienced lately. In the Lake Worth Inlet, conditions are not all that much better, although no one seems to have pinpointed the source for these unusual conditions. Canal C-51, which controls the intrusion of water from Lake Okeechobee into the Lake Worth lagoon, is supposedly closed.
Needless to say, Mr. William of Ockham has got one heck of a soup stirring.
Will we ever pinpoint the cause, and more importantly FIX IT, before it will once again leave and be quickly forgotten? Only time will tell. Alas, all is not dooms day. Life goes on underwater in Palm Beach, Florida.
The goliath groupers are beginning to congregate in huge numbers in the area. Check out how many I photographed on the Mitzpah this past weekend:
Turtles are still out in droves and the reefs will hopefully persevere through these tough times. Nature seems to always finds a way. In the meantime, lets do everything we can to better the life on this wonderful planet. Let your voices be heard. Help restore and protect the St. Lucie River. Get involved! Do your part at home to put as little an impact on the environment as you can. Remember things you do at home find their way out to the sea! Things can get better if we just try and, just as important, educate those around us.
What’s it like diving in Palm Beach right now? We’ve seen better days, but there’s still plenty of wonders to behold. Check out some of our underwater photos from this past weekend?