Due to the varied marine habitats and diversity of sites, Florida has historically been one of the most popular snorkel and dive destinations for vacationers.

Coral reefs and grass flats line Florida’s Gulf, while caves, manatee, and sea-grass are just below the surface of many freshwater rivers, lakes, and sinks. To date, the state has almost 600 artificial reefs from the panhandle south to Key West.

Dive shops and snorkel tours offer every conceivable type of adventure and newcomers to either sport will find plenty of options for seeing Florida’s marine attractions.

Sarasota dive site descriptions

M-4 is an artificial reef. The reef was deployed in 1998; it is at a depth of 43 feet (13 meters). Coral grows on the reef balls. The site is home to a wide variety of sea life like grouper, lizard fish, snapper, Spanish mackerel, barracuda, and large jewfish.

M-10 is a great artificial dive site at a depth of 70 feet (21 meters). It is a barge that was sunk by Florida artificial reef program in 1900. Now it is a great dive site and home to many kinds of under water creatures including jewfish and amberjack.

M-17 is another artificial reef. It is 10 miles west of the Venice Inlet. Hard corals grow on this reef.

Also you can see many underwater species on this reef like tunicates, oculina and tropical fish including blue and grey angels. It is home to jewfish, grouper and snapper as well as amberjack, hogfish and filefish.

The Bay Ronto is a British freighter that sank in 1919 during a hurricane. The wreck lies in 100 feet (30 meters) of water. It is now a popular spot for scuba diving. The ship lies upside down and home to abundant sea life including snapper, large barracuda, schools of amberjack and jewfish. This is a beautiful site to photograph.

Many artificial reefs were deployed in the area that is home to may kinds of aqua life. It consists of concrete culverts and rubble, barges and boxcars. A wide variety of colorful sponges and corals grow in these sites. Several U.s. Army Tanks were sunk to become an artificial dive site and it attracts large fish.

Snorkeling the grass flats and more – Saltwater grass flats look like dark spots in shallow water, but they’re actually green groups of grass growing in the sand. These flats, are easily snorkeled by all ages, and reveal a thriving marine community. Commonly seen creatures include sea urchins, crabs, clams, scallops, sand dollars, sea stars, and smaller fish.

Don’t look for sea grass flats where the beach has a lot of wave action; seek them out instead in saltwater bays or on the lee side of our islands.

Anna Maria Island – At first glance, Bradenton Beach may not be all that remarkable, yet Bradenton is home to one of the Gulf’s best beach access snorkeling and SCUBA diving locations.

First time snorkelers – as well as advanced divers – find this area to be a real pleasure. It’s one of few spots on the Gulf where saltwater beach diving is really good. And one of the great advantages of beach diving is the fact that you don’t need a boat!

Finding the dive site is easy: it stretches out perpendicular to the third of three small piers on Bradenton Beach (the southernmost pier). You simply pick a spot in the general area of the third pier, swim out about 100 yards and start looking for rock outcroppings jutting up from the sandy bottom.

You won’t find hard coral structures but, a variety of colorful sponges and soft coral! The Third Pier Reef, as it is known, also attracts a wide variety of game-fish and marine tropicals: large stingray, grouper, snapper, hogfish, gobies and blennies are plentiful. And, if you’re extremely lucky, you may have a close encounter with a barracuda or a 500 pound goliath-grouper!

Concrete was also dumped about 250-300 yards offshore – this too attracts fish and serves as an anchoring spot for soft corals and sponge. It is a little deeper, so the visibility is likely to be better, but only very strong swimmers should try to go out this far!

The quality of the snorkel/dive is totally dependent on the weather. Strong westerly winds can reduce visibility to about two feet–making the dive virtually useless. The best way to plan the trip is to set up a tentative date and check the weather reports for the area.

Regina Sugar Barge: This 1940 shipwreck is located at 7th Street, just north of the intersections for Gulf Drive and Cortez Road. You should be able to see the buoy marking the spot from the beach at Gulf Drive Café.

Remember, the best diving conditions include several days in a row of calm water, slack tide and full sun.

Longboat Key – Greer Island or Beer Can Island as it’s commonly referred to, is a good snorkeling location. Getting there may take a motor or a paddle, but the destination rewards you with serenity, good shelling and up-close views of wildlife. It’s not actually an island – rather, an attached hook of land best reached by boat. Shell seekers find a morning low tide ideal. The smooth, isolated beach is also a tranquil place to spot ospreys, herons, gulls, skimmers, pelicans and other waterfowl wading at the surf line and stalking in the shoreline mangroves. The protected shore away from the pass is ideal for donning your mask and slipping in the calm waters. Sea urchins, crabs, clams, scallops, sand dollars, sea stars, and small fish are plentiful.

Lido Key – Many people just like to sunbathe, but snorkeling on the bayside of South Lido Beach is another interesting spot with sea urchins, crabs, clams, scallops, sand dollars, sea stars, and smaller fish.

Schools of fish, horse shoe crabs and dolphin will certainly entertain snorkelers along Lido and North Lido beaches.

Siesta Key – At the southern tip of Crescent Beach is a formation of limestone known as Point of Rocks that extends from the beach into the water. This is a prime spot for snorkelers to view colorful fish and coral rock. The reef is about 20 yards wide, with a water depth of 15 to 18 feet, depending on the tide.

The lagoon at Turtle Beach is another good spot for snorkeling as is the beach itself.

Scuba divers can explore a number of underwater sights just off shore. M-10 is a sunken barge that has created an artificial reef 70 feet deep. Located eight miles off the coast, this is a great place to see snapper and amberjack. The M-17 is 80 feet deep. This artificial reef is home to many fish, including grouper, snapper, filefish, hogfish and amberjack. Smaller tropical fish populate both of these underwater areas.

Casey Key – The south end of the key at the two public beaches is a popular destination for hunting pre-historic shark teeth. But the North end is relatively untouched. Use a scoop if on the beach, or beach dive out to the 15 – 18ft. depths and use a strong spaghetti colander to sift the sand for teeth. For every one found on the surface, 20 are hidden in the sand. This is a great site!

Venice – With an established artificial reef program, Venice’s wrecks and reefs are worth seeing. They are home to a wide variety of sea life including jewfish, barracuda and grouper. Visibility is generally good allowing you to enjoy all the underwater beauty. Fossil enthusiasts like to dive for the teeth of the ancient giant sharks, Carcharocles Megalodon.

Bayronto wreck: This is a 450 foot (137 meters) German freighter that sank in 1914 and became a beautiful wreck site. The wreck is intact but upside down. At a depth of about 100 feet (30 meters) you’ll find soft and hard corals covering the hull attracting amberjack, snapper, jewfish, groupers and barracuda. This is an advanced site and the visibility is generally good.

Army tanks: 5 intact army tanks were sunk in the area at a depth of 60 feet (18 meters). The visibility is great but it does require advanced certification. The site is home to plenty of sea life.

Natural Ledges: The ancient river beds make a great home for underwater creatures while one of the best beach dives is right off Venice beach in the 15-20 foot depth range. Many extremely large Megalodon teeth are found by simply using a spaghetti colander to scoop the bottom sands while others simply swim the length of the beach, searching for anything black.

Another area for shark teeth can be found at Caspersen Beach where a series of ledges are at the 22 foot depth. These ledges are frequently cleared of sand by wave action, exposing teeth on the bedrock.

Manasota Key

Stump Pass Beach is the remotest of the four beaches on Manasota Key. The area consists of the southernmost mile of Manasota Key, Peterson Island, Whidden Key and the protected channels between them.

To find the area that everyone raves about for snorkeling and shelling requires a boat or a 1.3 mile one-way hike, either on a nature trail through dense sea grape groves or along the sloped beach.

Visitors who make the trip are rewarded with one of the most pristine, deserted stretches of sand and water in the State.