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I have recently returned from a couple of weeks in Florida where I was visiting friends and managed to fit a few dives in too! I didn't really know what to expect from diving in one of the most populous states in the US but I was more than pleasantly surprised. I only managed four dives and a morning of snorkelling but saw my first ever Great Hammerhead, heaps of manatees and amazing muck critters (Click this Link to Images).

I had read a lot about diving Blue Heron Bridge and it became one of my main goals for the trip. We were in the water for the 8am high slack tide and did the mid span of the dive site. Since we didn't really know what we were doing we didn't want to stray too close to the bridge construction that's going on towards the eastern side. None-the-less we pottered about in 4-5m of water and found plenty to entertain us. I need to confirm the exact species we saw from a Caribbean ID book but I found a stargazer, large gurnard, pipefish, tiny juvenile box and angelfish as well as heaps of crustaceans. Well worth the trip and thanks to the Jammin Beach website for their thorough explanation of the site.

Next I headed down to the Keys where I did a couple of dives off Key West (the southern most of the keys). I booked to two afternoon dives, since the mornings were full. I was told these would be in only 6m of water on the inner reef so I didn't expect too much and decided not to bother putting my camera together for the trip. This was a terrible idea! At the very end of the dive, right under the moored boat, my buddy was waving frantically behind me. I thought it was probably another huge barracuda or something but it was in fact a huge 4-5m Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokorran)! I have always wanted to see one of these massive and elusive predators but there are few places in the world where they are seen. It was really a dream come true to see one!

Our next diving adventure was around the Crystal River on the west coast of Florida. We dove with American Pro Diving in the Rainbow River. I hadn't dived in freshwater since my Open Water course in 1996, which was in a 4˚C quarry in England with frost on the ground! This was a million times more enjoyable! We were kind of carried away with the dive and realised after 60 minutes we'd only done half the distance. We surfaced and luckily as we were the only customers the boat driver wasn't too fussed, although he thought we may hold the record for the longest dive on Rainbow River! We saw plenty of small fish including sunfish, bowfins and gudgeons as well as a few loggerhead musk turtles. It was overall a great and unique dive.

Finally we snorkelled with manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostrus). I had read quite a bit about this population whilst researching my own studies on human interactions with pygmy seahorses. I wasn't really sure how the interactions with the animals would be, but I was pleased that our guide from Captain Mike's Manatee Tours was making sure we understood how to interact with the animals without disturbing them. This was before he even knew we were marine biologists. There was a government official overseeing interactions around a manatee resting area, so I was pleased to see that harassment was being taken seriously for the animals. So in the end we had some great encounters with the manatees in a way I was sure was not negatively impacting them.

Overall, even though I only managed four dives in Florida I had some very memorable encounters. I would definitely recommend a trip with any of the companies I used.

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