Scuba Diving Photos
United States of Scuba: Diving the Country We Love
Volcanic activity in Hawaii has created great dive spots below sea level.
By Eric Michael and Mary Frances Emmons
American divers are the luckiest on the planet. Our fair country boasts some of the best variety of any nation, from the towering kelp forests of California to the silent underwater museums of the Great Lakes, the deep, cold quarries of the Midwest, the wreck-littered Outer Banks of North Carolina and the sunny coral gardens of the Florida Keys. We might not enjoy the same biodiversity as those who live in the center of the Coral Triangle, but we have heaps of other superlatives to enjoy — and celebrate. The largest artificial reef, the only divable ICBM silo, the largest underground mine dive, the best preserved wooden shipwrecks — not to mention the most passionate tribe of divers on the planet (pat yourself on the back).We salute the best of American dive culture. (Cue the fireworks.) O say can you see ...
Giant Artificial Reefs
The United States was one of the first nations to turn retired warships into amazing dive sites. As early as the 1830s, South Carolina pioneers began building log structures to attract fish. Before long, forward-thinking fishermen were sinking railroad cars, school buses, automobiles and other structures. The U.S. government’s Liberty Ship Act of 1972 made available a vast decommissioned fleet of metal hulks. Explosives started sending ships to the bottom soon after, a trend that bestowed upon American divers a vast smorgasbord of world-class wreck dives around the country — including the world’s largest, the Oriskany, in the Florida Panhandle.
In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Honolulu and other coastal American metropolises, there’s action above and below the waterline. For lucky locals and visitors alike, quality diving that’s easily accessible is only the beginning. Cities offer attractive topside options for culture and cuisine, plus large dive populations mean competition among shops and operators, which helps stretch your dive dollar.
They’re America’s favorite reptile, but until you watch a sea turtle underwater, in the environment it was designed for, you’re missing the best part. Protecting that environment has paid off in spades in the U.S.: Recorded nesting of green sea turtles is up 600 percent along Florida’s beaches since 1990 — scientists credit the region’s network of marine protected areas for the increase.
No other sea-dwelling creatures are more flat-out fun to encounter than the sea lions, fur seals, harbor seals and monk seals commonly found on the West Coast of the continental U.S. and in the Hawaiian Islands. Whether they’re divebombing divers from out of nowhere or blowing a blast of bubbles in your face, these smart, swift-swimming mammals are typically having a great time.
Like diving into Oz, a day in a sun-dappled kelp forest is a magical experience for divers, especially when playful pinnipeds are present. Found around the world in temperate waters, kelp is strongly associated with California for U.S. divers, and indeed the most diverse kelp forests in the world are found off the Golden State coast. From its wavy, leafy canopy that can extend to the surface — giant kelp grows from 10 inches to 2 feet per day — to its benthic roots, kelp forests are home to a host of invertebrates, fish, marine mammals and even birds.
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