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Florida Fly Drive Dive Part 1 –  Key Largo

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In the first of this three-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from Florida!

It’s a dive trip – but not as you know it!

Finding a great dive destination that we can travel to whilst the World is still in the grips of the COVID pandemic is like trying to catch flies with chopsticks, but we keep trying! Our latest exploration came about from looking at rules and regulations, evaluating them all, making plans, changing them, until finally, we came up with a place that we could go dive that we hadn’t been to before.

Being married to a US Citizen meant that I could enter the USA and having a family house to sell meant that I could also leave the UK, so Florida was on the cards. I had some preconceptions about diving in Florida – I didn’t expect it to be amazing but was so fed up with diving in the fishpond and bathtub that I was of the opinion that anything would do.

How very wrong I was!

Let me open this prose with one fact, to be substantiated later – the diving I experienced in Florida was top notch. I don’t remember surfacing once without a huge smile of my face, and I can also say that I experienced two ‘dives of a lifetime’. Having logged over 2500 dives, this is really saying something!

Now dear readers, I must tell you that this trip was very different to any other trip I have done before. No beach resort, no all-inclusive hotel, no liveaboard leg, and very little of the normal relaxing on the beach in the surface intervals. This was a 100mph experience from start to finish…

FLORIDA : FLY-DRIVE-DIVE : KEY LARGO

Arriving at Miami International Airport is always an experience – this place is busy with a capital B. Collecting baggage, through the lengthy immigration queues and on to the car rental stations was just the start.

Our intended FLY-DRIVE-DIVE package has divers exploring the Florida coastline from Jupiter in the North to Key Largo in the South, and for me, leaving Miami and heading south to the Keys was the plan.

A quick one-hour road trip through the metropolis of Miami and the edge of the Everglades National Park had us arriving in the beautiful Key Largo, checking in at the Holiday Inn in time for dinner. Neat and tidy rooms, plenty of space, coffee machine and fridge, plus hairdryer and air-conditioning and a choice of pillows – perfect!

Some very windy weather forced the local dive operators to cancel a few days of diving, so we took the opportunity to explore the area. Key Largo – a beautiful place. Only half a mile wide at its widest point, this is the longest of over 800 keys, separated by some 42 bridges! On both sides, the island is dotted with marinas, boat ramps, bars and restaurants, and whilst it is very much a beach town, there is no lack of facilities – if you forget to bring anything, you can get it here! Dive shops (some of warehouse proportions) are everywhere.

Apart from dive gear shopping, visiting the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and chilling by the pool, you must take in the sunsets. We found the aptly named Sundowners on the West side of the Key, and sat on the deck right by the water, catching the most spectacular sunset, whilst enjoying an amazing cocktail or two. And for food lovers, there is no better place in our opinion than the marina-side Sharkeys Sharkbite Grill. We ate here at least 8 times in 6 days it was that good – the BEST fresh grouper and beer boiled shrimp ever! Accompanied by cold beers and live music in the evenings, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Once the wind moved on, we scheduled five days diving in Key Largo, utilising the services of two different operators. Rainbow Reef Divers, one of the biggest operations we have experienced globally and with eight large dive boats, looked after us well for a couple of days. We also scheduled a day of diving with Sea Dwellers. Sea Dwellers are a smaller operator, with two excellent dive boats, and their attention to detail, customer service and quality dive briefings were all excellent. The more personal service they provided was something that we preferred. Both operations were within walking distance of our hotel, and this made humping gear a far lesser chore.

The diving was, quite simply, excellent. Warm and clear waters, enough current to drift properly, and plenty of nooks and crannies to drop into to explore find life to photograph. The reefs here are super-healthy, packed to the surface with marine life, and we saw sharks, turtles, grouper, spadefish, morays, tuna, dolphins to name but a few. Critters galore too – shrimp, crabs, slipper lobsters and the snake-like gold spot morays. Then, there were the wrecks!

There are over 1,000 wrecks of the coast of the Keys, but Key Largo has probably the best – with the Benwood (a phenomenal night dive too), USCG Duane, USCGC Bibb and of course, the largest deliberately sunk wreck in the World, the 160m long USS Spiegel Grove. Sunk in 2002, she is suitable for recreational divers at a depth of 25m to her decks, but technical, extended range and of course side mount and twinset divers are well catered for, as are CCR divers.

We left Key Largo swearing a blood-oath to come back, and soon, and drove up Route 1 towards our next destination, West Palm Beach, full of anticipation, but with a little sadness too – Key Largo is a place that we would go to again and again.

Stay tuned for the next leg of our Fly Drive Dive tour of Florida but in the meantime check out some of our favourite images from Key Largo:

KEY FACTS

  • Getting there : This was part of our Fly Drive Dive itinerary, but Key Largo is a destination we would suggest on its own. Nonstop flights to Miami or Orlando are available daily with several car rental companies to choose from based on your needs.
  • Air temperature : In the spring and summer expect highs of 26 to 32 with milder temperatures in the winter. Rain is more likely June through September.
  • Water temperature : An average of 25 in the cooler months and 29 in the summer
  • Visa requirements : An ESTA is required to visit the USA. Currently an ESTA costs $14.00 and is valid for multiple trips for a two-year period. Application can be completed online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/
  • Currency : US Dollar with ATM easily found and all major credit cards accepted.
  • Electricity : 120V with 2 and 3 prong plugs.

Accommodation: Holiday Inn Key Largo. This hotel is just steps away from the Marina and the boats of both Rainbow Reef and Sea Dwellers. And even more importantly Diver’s Warehouse is across the street – convenient for divers yet inconvenient for the wallet!

Diving: Rainbow Reef Dive Center has a fleet of 8 boats that offer both morning and afternoon 2 tank charters. Their online calendar makes it simple to pick the dive sites that interest you.

Sea Dwellers offers both morning and afternoon charters in addition to night dives. And once a month they offer a dive or snorkel in collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation. Get some training in the morning with diving in the afternoon returning corals to the Carysfort Coral Nursery. How cool is that?!?!

Price Guide: from £1995pp for 7 nights in Key Largo with a 10 dive package, car rental and return flights and from £3695pp for our complete Fly Drive Dive 14 night package with diving in Key Largo, Palm Beach and Jupiter, accommodation, car rental and return flights.

Favourite Dive Sites: Molasses Reef, Hole in the Wall, Christ Statue, French Reef.

Favourite Spots: Divers Direct Warehouse! John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Publix, Sharkeys Sharkbite Grill, Sundowner’s.

Check our website for more information on diving in Florida:

Where to Dive : North America : Florida : Key Largo

Come Dive with Us!


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

The Scuba Genies are John and Mona Spencer-Ades, owners and Directors of ATOL and ABTA bonded Tour Operator and Travel Agency, The Scuba Place Ltd. The Scuba Place design and custom-build exceptional diving holidays around the globe, and have been doing so since 2011. They provide travel services to groups, clubs, buddy-pairs and individuals, and have a wealth of hands on experience when it comes to destinations as they are fanatical divers themselves. John has been diving over 30 years and is a PADI Dive Master, having logged over 2600 dives. Mona started her diving career in 2004, and has logged over 600 dives – she is currently a PADI Rescue Diver. The Scuba Place also provide hosted trips to both new and their favourite destinations each year, providing expert support, under their banner ‘Come Dive with Us!’ Previous trips have been to the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bonaire, Florida, the Maldives, Malta, Bahamas, Thailand, Truk Lagoon, Grenada, St Lucia, Cozumel, Cuba and Egypt. For 2022 and beyond, Palau, Bali, Raja Ampat, Ambon and Coron are in the planning stage.

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The Rescue – available on Disney+ tomorrow (Watch Trailer)

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If you missed the recent cinema debut of The Rescue film, you can watch it on streaming channel Disney+ from tomorrow December 3rd.

From Academy Award®-winning filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Free Solo), The Rescue is the edge-of-your-seat account of the rescue of 12 Thai school boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave system in 2018.

The Rescue chronicles the dramatic rescue of the boys and their coach, trapped deep inside a flooded cave. Academy Award®-winning directors and producers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin reveal the perilous world of cave diving, the bravery of the rescuers, and the dedication of an entire community that made great sacrifices to save these young boys. An outing to explore a nearby system of caves after soccer practice transformed into a two-week saga of survival and a story that would capture the world’s attention. With exclusive access and never-before-seen footage from the rescue, the film tells the story of the imagination, determination and unprecedented teamwork displayed during this heroic edge-of-your-seat mission with life-or-death stakes.

Check back for our review of The Rescue soon!

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Marine Life & Conservation

Shark Guardian investigation finds endangered sharks for sale in Taiwan

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A field investigation into Taiwan’s shark fin industry was conducted by Shark Guardian between December 2020 and March 2021. The investigation obtained documentary evidence of fins from endangered shark species being openly offered for sale by over half of all shark fin traders surveyed in Taiwan’s southern fishing port of Kaohsiung.

Of the 13 shark fin processing and trading companies visited, more than half were found to be trading CITES- listed fins, and seven had shark fins from CITES Appendix II-listed species as part of their product range. One company saidthere was no difference in selling protected or unprotected species. Protected sharks’ products usually create a problem for international shipping only.”

The new report details how seven out of thirteen traders surveyed in Taiwan were found to be selling shark fins from silky sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks and great white sharks in broad daylight – in contravention of Taiwanese and international law.

Over a three-month period, Shark Guardian investigators witnessed multiple shipments of shark fins from endangered species being unloaded at Donggang fish market which is in Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung.

Alex Hofford, Marine Wildlife Campaigner with Shark Guardian, said “To save sharks and the marine environment, Taiwanese authorities should implement an immediate crackdown on its cruel and unsustainable shark fin trade, and should tighten up local laws to ban the domestic sale of shark fin as well as better enforce its international obligations under CITES. It is also high time that the Taiwanese government should rein in its out-of-control distant water tuna fishing fleet, who are a major supplier shark fin to Chinese markets. Whilst Taiwan is a beacon of democratic and progressive values in Asia, it is allowing its unsustainable and often crime-ridden fisheries sector to rape and pillage our ocean with impunity. This must stop. Taiwan needs to show leadership in environmental protection and must quickly clean up its act as regards its sleazy shark fisheries and trade sectors.”

During our investigation, Shark Guardian also found evidence of Taiwan-based online retailers selling fins of endangered species of shark in contravention of local and international law.

According to WWF, a third of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction, yet fishing and trading in unsustainable shark fin remains a highly profitable, but environmentally destructive, enterprise for Taiwanese companies operating out of Kaohsiung.

Brendon Sing, Co-Director of Shark Guardian said “Clearly more must be done to protect sharks globally. There are over 500 known shark species with only a handful of them listed under CITES. Even then, CITES listed sharks are still traded illegally where monitoring and enforcement lack any power and expose loopholes in the system. As long as this continues, there is no real protection for any shark species regardless of CITES listing or not. Taiwan must be responsible and take positive action in response to this report.”

Shark Guardian believes that excessively large profit margins are the main reason why Taiwan has never acted to rein in its shark fisheries and trade.

Shark Guardian hopes that Taiwan can apply its progressive values towards preserving the marine environment by imposing a comprehensive ban on the physical and online selling all species of shark fin in Taiwan. Such a ban would go above and beyond what is required under international law, and Taiwan’s domestic laws can be changed with public support.

For more information about Shark Guardian visit their website by clicking here.

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Egypt | Safaga, Brothers & Elphinstone | 27 January – 04 February 2022 | Emperor Elite

Jump on board this famous Red Sea liveaboard and enjoy diving the famous wrecks of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer.  Emperor Elite offers a contemporary living space combined with the best itineraries available in the Red Sea.

Price NOW from just £975 per person based on sharing a twin cabin including:

  • Flights from London Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Booking deadline: Subject to availability.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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