Forget Sea World, or Discovery Cove. You want to see Florida’s stunning marine life, or even swim with the dolphins, just venture even a short distance off of South Florida’s coast.
Whether you’re snorkeling off Peanut Island, or at the sunken ship turret off Delray Beach, or at any of the many natural coral reefs up and down the coast, you’re bound to be dazzled by the rich array of organic sea life – trigger fish, angel fish, moray eels, even loggerhead turtles, manatees and pods of porpoises.
On a recent charter, the fishing had slowed down and the young family onboard wanted to jump in for a dip. It’s a spontaneous activity I often encourage, not only because the waters of the Atlantic are uniquely refreshing but because ocean swimming gives people an intimate experience with our natural resources that they may not have dared considered before. And it’s perfectly safe, as long as the swimmers stick together, are adequately monitored by trained personnel, have the appropriate dive flags out and do not harass the sea life. (Lots of people are afraid of sharks, but shark bites are rare and can be easily avoided by following a few basic rules: Don’t swim in low-visibility, murky water; don’t swim if you’re bleeding, don’t swim with shiny jewelry and always be aware of your surroundings.)
After going over these and other safety rules with my charter customers that recent summer day, about four or five of them jumped in the water with fins, masks and snorkels. Not five minutes later, the kids and parents spotted something exciting: about six dolphins swimming about five feet below them. The family stayed a respectful distance away, wowed by the mammals’ gentle movements and proximity. It was an experience they said they’d never forget, captured in this underwater shot.
I’ve heard that a lot, especially this summer, when our summer camp field trips, fishing charters and boating excursions with my own kids yielded similar encounters with Florida’s marine life. We’ve seen starfish, live sand dollars, sea urchins, blowfish and other fish of all colors, shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen plenty of jellyfish, which seem to be out in droves lately, so be careful if you venture out in the local waters. The good thing about jellyfish is that they’re relatively slow swimmers, so you can more often than not avoid getting too close with a quick turn of your fins.
Don’t let the thought of jellyfish, or sharks, scare you out of an ocean swim, though. As long as the conditions are right and you follow all the right safety guidelines, chances are you’d be in for a real treat.