Beyond Sixty Feet

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Be it an artificial reef, a true wreck or a mid reef there are many points of interest resting on the ocean floor. Many happen to be located in depths greater than the 60ft cut off for entry-level open water divers.

For most, diving deep is considered to be around 100 ft. Those certified as recreational advanced divers are trained for depths to 130 ft.

If you think about the Wreck Trek here in the Florida Keys the sites are deep friendly. Sure, you may find a spot where the depth is greater than 130 ft. but most likely, the artificial reef or wreck is large enough for there to be plenty to see without descending all the way down to the sand.

The points of interest will be located throughout the ship, mainly on upper decks or wheelhouses; resulting in not much to see but sand at the maximum depth.
There are many sites here in the Keys which allow those activities well within the recreational limits. No need to push your limits.

It’s not just ships you find passed the entry-level open water 60 ft. mark. There are numerous mid reef sites through out the Keys.

Our main reef line is about 25 ft. deep. If you take it further south you will find a deep reef. Many start around 50 ft. and hit close to 80 ft.

The mid reefs hold an abundance of marine life.  Looking closely you will notice a difference in the corals. Many corals such as the boulder star coral, was montastrea annularis now orbicella annularis, stands high on shallow reefs receiving plenty of sunlight. On deeper reefs the coral spreads are lying more flat.

You will still be able to identify the coral, particularity annulairs, due to their distinguishing characteristics. However, the layout of the corals on deeper reefs also allow additional hiding spots for creatures. These create a bit of a hide and seek effect on the mid reefs. You never know what you might find under the flat corals.

Mid reefs are great dive sites and make a nice transition to deeper wreck dives. Divers follow safe diving practices including safety stops. They become accustomed to checking air more frequently.

What I’ve discovered teaching the advanced course is several students have themselves pretty worked up prior to leaving the dock.

The “unknown” is the most common concern. Students are concerned of the effects of nitrogen narcosis. Will they become narked and if so how badly? One student actually called her mother to say, “I love you” one last time, just in case….

On the flip side of the token this is the norm for what happens during the dive from an instructor’s perspective. Most are anxious as they either cannot wait to dive deep or fear they may throw up in their regulator.

There is some tension during the descent depending on the visibility. Once the divers are able to make out the wreck and begin conducting the same training activities practiced on land they become more relaxed.

Imagine taking up to eight kids to a candy store for the first time. Once they’ve got it figured out…game on! Yes, very similar to taking students on their first deep dive. This can be the most challenging dive of scuba instruction.

Just like parents escorting kids from a candy store due to misbehavior, there have been many dives I have escorted groups of students back to the boat.

Fascination of a goliath grouper for the first time can be quite distracting. The rush of making your first deep dive on a wreck can be exhilarating. Whatever the case maybe you must stay within your limits.

Post dive, the consensus, once filled with what ifs, etc. converts to how cool was that? Many stick to wreck dives for a good time before making a reef dive again.

It’s all good, though. Dive where you like and do what you want. Just don’t limit yourself due to fear. There are some legitimate concerns but fear of the unknown? You just might be missing out on some great dives!

Living in the Keys offers such a wide variety of diving. Not to take advantage of it, especially while living in the Keys, truly is a shame.

If you find yourself growing curious about deep dives contact your local dive shop. Take the time to find an instructor you feel comfortable with and sign up for an advanced open water course.

Already advanced certified? Still have interest? A wreck specialty course may be what you seek. A couple of days of wreck diving learning proper penetration techniques can make even an old dive seem new. Whichever one you choose, keep it fun and safe!

Tracy Brenner has been a resident of the Florida Keys since 2002. Tracy owns and operates Abyss Dive Center in Marathon. Tracy’s scuba instructor rating is a PADI Course Director. She is an Instructor Trainer for Divers Alert Network and a Diving Safety Officer for the American Academy of Underwater Sciences.