In June of 2019, 633 divers descended on Deerfield Beach Pier setting a world record and buzz of interest. We’re Florida divers and environmental activists and, like so many people, we shared the news on Facebook when it came out. But we wanted to do more. We wanted to visit first hand and uncover the story behind the story. Why does Deerfield Beach need such a monumental cleanup? Who could organize so many divers? How is diving at Deerfield Beach? What’s coming next?
1: Find a Good Diver Partner
Our good friend, Ashley, recently learned to scuba dive. To understand what an accomplishment this was for her, you have to read her learning to dive post (re: The Most Terrifying, Humbling + Rewarding Experience of My Life). To say she overcame fears would be an understatement. When she approached us as her dive partners of choice, we were honored.
Our first thought was to dive at Blue Heron Bridge so we could go at our own pace and have plenty of bottom time to work on skills. The tides were against us that day, and the dive window for BHB was right around dinner time. We needed to get out of the water before that. I thought we should head to Deerfield Beach to get the scoop on the World Record dive. There’s a little more swimming than the Bridge, but it’s only 600′ out. How bad could it be? Those words rank right up there with “hey watch this” and “hold my beer.”
2. Dixie Divers is a Dive Community
Dixie Divers organized the world record cleanup, so it’s only natural we reached out to them for our gear rentals. The shop was not only filled with a wide assortment of dive gear but also customers who were testing fit and asking questions.
What really impressed me about Dixie Divers were their training facilities. They have two classrooms upstairs and an on-premise pool. Not only do they have well-priced dive lessons, but they put together gear and instruction packages. The influx of certified divers coming through a dive shop is the lifeblood of a scuba community and the future of the sport. They certify over 1,000 new divers every year. Dixie Divers is raked in the top 10 dive stores in the USA and in the top 20 internationally.
3. It’s not the divers who pollute Deerfield Beach
Dixie Divers proudly displayed information about the record-setting dive. There was the certificate from Guinness Book along with photos from the day. It was so much more than 633 divers in the water. There were teams on the pier hauling up baskets of trash and an army of logistic support.
I was particularly interested in the nature of that trash. This trash wasn’t debris leftover from divers. It was junk that accumulated through a year of beach use, particularly monofilament line leftover from pier fishing. Fishing line is a death trap for marine animals, particularly turtles. We recently returned from a south Florida turtle weekend and saw this carnage first hand. Five miles away at the Gumbo Limbo nature center, we met a turtle amputee who lost his limb to fishing line. South Florida beaches are one of the two world mega hatcheries for Loggerhead turtles, so removal of deadly discard line is paramount here.
4. How can you dive Deerfield Beach Pier?
My first question for the shop is how do we dive at Deerfield Beach Pier. The short answer is – you don’t. First off, the beach lifeguards will not let you enter the water in front of them. That infers a legal responsibility for your safety that the city’s lawyers don’t allow them to accept. Secondly, between the discarded line and the active fishing, it just isn’t safe there.
The Dixie Diver website says it best –
This is a once a year dive opportunity to dive under the Pier. Dixie Divers with help of City of Deerfield Beach has arranged to have Deerfield Beach Pier closed from 9:00 am until 12:0 0pm so that divers can maneuver among the pilings with safety.
Volunteers are needed to dive the pier and for the land duties such as pulling up the buckets the divers will fill with monofilament line and lead sinkers and to co-ordinate the surface onlookers. All volunteers can keep as many lead sinkers as they like or you can help by cleaning the beach or by just talking about diving and our local environment.
5. Where can you shore dive at Deerfield Beach?
So the pier and guarded beach were off-limits. There are reef sections north and south of the pier and beach access points where you can enter. South of the pier, the reef is more extensive but shallower. We opted for north of the pier at a place called Turtle Reef.
The beach access for Turtle Reef is by the bus stop at A1A & Osceola Dr. This area is also known as Boca / Deerfield Line Dive Site since it’s right at the Welcome to Boca Raton sign. You’ll have to drop your gear and find parking either near the pier or at South Inlet Park. You swim right out from there, about half a pier length out, and you will reach the reef. That’s the plan from the Dixie Diver’s Beach Dive page, but, unfortunately, we were using information from another site, so we had an ‘opportunity’ for more ‘adventure’.
6. Diving takes practice, teamwork, and attitude
We made it to the beach, a little south of where we intended to go, and a lot south of where the reef actually was. Step one of our team-building exercise (re: The Suffer-fest) was a hike across the sand in full dive gear. Word to the wise, wear your flip-flops, and buckle them into your BCD if needed. The sand was blistering hot on bare feet (literally, I had a couple of new blisters after). Once we reached our target area, we began the swim out. Getting out was easy enough, but there was a slight southerly current that kept us from making headway northward. We tried dropping down and navigating underwater, but it wasn’t helping out. Even though we swam out in the correct direction, it was like we were swimming in a treadmill. Every time we surfaced to check our positioning, we were basically in the same place. We regrouped on the surface and discussed our options. Heading out further seemed like a bad idea, so we went most of the way back in until we could wade in chest-deep water.
That option worked like a champ, and we kept passing SUPs and snorkelers who helped direct us to the reef. We headed out again and, this time found the spot. Unfortunately, we burned through a significant amount of air on the approach, so we didn’t get to explore as much as we would have liked. We did get lots of chances to practice descending, underwater communication, navigation, and problem-solving. After the dive, Ashley felt significantly less anxiety. She even said she would never be too worried about a boat dive again. As for the attitude, we were all still friends after hauling the dive gear back to the beach access and looking forward to enjoying the evening together.
7. The world needs local dive shops
We felt a little more educated when we returned to Dixie Divers. We had a brief opportunity to speak with Pavan, the shop owner about diving at Deerfield Beach and plans for the shop. Not surprisingly, the cleanup isn’t the only activity the shop had going. A few years back, they set the record for the largest underwater chain. He also worked with the city to put in a fish cam and Deerfield Beach Pier so divers could assess conditions before they came to the beach. He got very excited talking about a new fish habit he is putting in south of the pier.
Pavan was engaging and delightful. We could have talked with him all day, except the shop was full of customers. I told him – “go make some money.” He corrected me that it was about service first. He has to serve his customers, answer their questions, and the rest will follow. Local dive shops are an invaluable resource. From gear to training to advice, they are the front line that keeps recreational scuba afloat.
Below is a 360 shot inside Dixie Divers shop. If you don’t see it, be sure to refresh browser 😉
8. Where can you dive in Deerfield Beach by boat
We loved our day diving and are eager to return for a boat dive. Dixie Divers runs their dive boat, the Lady Go Diver, which is moored about a mile away from the shop. She leaves out of the Boca Ratan Inlet and hits many of the North Fort Lauderdale dive sites including the Okinawa, Lady Luck, and Sea Emperor.
One of their premier boat dives is the M/V Castor for the goliath grouper aggregation. In early fall, large numbers of these enormous fish gather at the Caster. Her deep depth right at the edge of the Gulf Stream makes it an ideal habitat. Jenn got her advanced certification in part to do this exact dive.
9. Everybody can make a difference
Even though our dive was highly successful at overcoming fears and practicing skills, we didn’t get our fill of turtles by a long shot. Luckily, our day wasn’t over. We headed down to Fort Lauderdale Beach to go on a Turtle Trek with Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP). They are a 501c3 organization dedicated to saving baby sea turtles. All summer long, one hundred and fifty volunteers monitor hatching sea turtles and rescue the ones confused by light pollution. Since they started eight years ago, they have saved over 250,000 sea turtles.
We were lucky on our turtle trek. We saw a nest of 76 turtles hatch. Unfortunately, only two made it to the ocean without assistance. The other 74 hatchlings would have died without STOP’s intervention. Like Dixie Divers, they work with the local government for long term solutions for marine animals, but, in this case, it’s creating and enforcing lighting ordinances along the beach. All-day long, we saw motivated individuals organizing groups to make a difference.
On the way back to our car, we saw a huge hermit crab stuck on the wrong side of the seawall. I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity to make a difference. I scooped him up in my flip-flops and carried him across the wall to the ocean. As he scurried away into the waves, it felt like the day had come full circle. While that may not seem like much, I learned that everybody joining together is a powerful force and there’s no end to where that might lead.
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