FLORIDA SKIN DIVER  

The WILD WEST COAST of Florida
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Section D - Chart, Coordinates Table and Log Entries

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NZ... The 35' sailboat "New Zest" went down in the No Name Storm on March 13, 1993. Owners Sheila Wilde and James Harden were found drown in Tampa Bay days later. The wrecked hull is wrapped around a piling on the 6th row from the fender on the SW side of the Little Maximo Bridge, the small fixed bridge just north of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The week after the storm I found the New Zest wreck while stone crabbing and salvaged the ship's wheel and 2 bow pulpits shown here. Strong current and poor visibility make this a dive for experienced divers only. On April 18th, 1993 the St Petersburg Times ran a 2 page story about the accident, linked here: "The Last Voyage of the New Zest."
 
FD...  Parts of Fort Dade, on the southwest shore of Egmont Key, at the mouth of Tampa Bay, have been underwater for decades due to intense beach erosion. As a kid in the sixties I remember that you could walk all around them except at high tide. A peek at Google Earth reveals the parts that are above the waterline, shown in the photos at right, and more that are submerged including a long wall. During easterly winds, snorkelers see mangrove snappers, sheepshead and other varieties of fish. A coworker once caught a spiny lobster on the wall.

MB... In a 1989 summer storm the Misener Barge was lost by a Misener Marine tug in the SW Pass off Egmont Key and soon after a shrimp boat snagged and lost it's nets there. Channel 8 TV announced that the nets were trapping and killing fish. I found and freed a nurse shark on my first dive and later removed much of the nets, as did other divers. By 1992 the barge had caved in, except for the bow & stern, and lies SW to NE.

DB... Doc's Barge
remains a mystery except that it's also called the Shrimp Barge and Chemical Barge. The barge lies upside-down and has crumbled over the years. By 2000 the middle had broken open. It's often covered with bait, and home to spooky gags. We once saw a 10' bull shark there.

2, 4, 5 & 8... Natural ledges are carved from limestone by the wave action against ancient coast lines. Ledges are covered with soft corals and sponges and provide habitat for many benthic fish, like snapper, grouper and even Goliath grouper and their favorite prey... spiny lobster. Eastern Gulf ledges max out at about 12 feet of relief except for the sections of the Florida Middle Grounds, which can have nearly 3 times as much relief. Ledges #2 through #8 are between 2' to 6' tall and are in an area containing many more. For more information about ledges click on the underlined title following for an article from the St Petersburg Times "Ledges Key to Diving in the Gulf "  & the exclusive list of Ledge areas coordinates.

PM1... In the early nineties the Gulfstream Pipeline was quickly connected from Mobile, AL all the way into Tampa Bay, and by 1992 we were diving on the pipe and it's many mitigation sites. PM1 is made up of rock clusters that instantly attracted mangrove snappers and has become prime habitat for gag grouper. For much more on the Pipeline and mitigation sites see Section E.

SPB... The St Pete Beach Artificial Reef was started in March of 1976 with slabs and pilings from the old Corey Causeway Bridge, culvert pipes and the old barge that was partially sunk on Star Island next to the newly built St Pete Beach Causeway. The 200' barge lies bow to the south and is still the largest reef feature, but in April of 1995 Vietnam era M-60 Army tanks were placed on the site. I found 9 of the 10 tanks by towing behind the boat and freediving. The Pinellas County Reef Department shows a 10th, but I've left it off because only personally verified sites are listed here. The tanks are all sitting upright with intact gun turrets.

18... Permit Barge Ledge is a one of many low ledges south of the Permit Barge that hold a lot of hogfish, triggerfish and mangrove snappers. They are described as nearshore sized fish because they often are less than half the size of the same species found in deep water. It's a great freedive spot after hitting the wreck, and in late fall, winter and early spring ledges like these provide good eating sized fish without the long offshore run. Sometimes they get an infusion of winter gag grouper.

PB... The Permit Barge wreck is also known as the Betty Rose & Mecco's Barge. It's claimed to be 75' long but seems bigger, with the bow to the NW where there is some hard bottom that gags often patrol. Very few divers knew about this close to shore wreck in the late 70's and for about 20 years it was intact with about 8 feet of relief, but in June of 1999 I first noticed the deck had given way. When barges open up they often get much better for holding bottom fish, although this one had a 2' gap  running horizontally along the length of it's gunwales, which allowed easy passage for grouper and snapper. It's rare not to see a few Goliath grouper on the sand near the bow and stern. 45' of depth is usually the magic number to find decent visibility in this part of the Gulf of Mexico, and here it's sometimes top to bottom.

OT... The Orange Tug wreck is the star attraction on the South County Artificial Reef. It is an 80' tug with an intact main cabin, but the wheel house was removed prior to it's sinking it in April of 2003. With 20' of bottom relief it is a favorite of freedivers as well as scuba divers. The St Pete Times ran a beautiful centerfold illustration article of this reef in it's Gulf & Bay section on Nov 4th 2005, but sadly only the text is archived. The bow points SSW and the hull still leans about 45 degrees to port. The stern with her large 4 blade prop and rudder is a hot spot for fish. The marker buoy on the wreck is long gone but the concrete blocks and junction boxes around the wreck add an attraction for gag grouper like the one shown at right. Since the 2005 red tide clean-off the Goliath grouper population has rebounded and is once again out of control... commonly 25 to 50 of the behemoths roam the wreck. During the fall of 2008 we witnessed a school of about 16 cobia here, up to 60 pounds, and uncharacteristically they hung around for the whole 40 minute dive! (My OW students loved it, but I didn't take a gun.)

B1 & B3... Barge 1 & 3 are medium 110' barges with range towers laid on top and beside them. Barge 2 is smaller at 75' and without towers. The barges were placed in the summer of 2004 and are west of the tug, forming a perimeter around many of the original pilings, slabs, junction boxes and culvert piles placed here beginning in October of 2001. I hesitate to mention the yellow reef buoy close to the center of the South County Reef site... as they have a way of disappearing in harsh gulf weather.                              Click above graph for So County Reef wrecks layout                       
So County sites with Culvert pipes, light poles, junction boxes & slabs:  931 
2743.368  8258.532,  S1  2743.373  8258.544,  835  2743.390  8258.549,  837  2743.366  8258.559,  S5  2743.487  8258.577
273  2743.486  8258.605,  575  2743.463  8258.598,  576  2743.462  8258.611

TI... Treasure Island Artificial Reef is one of the oldest reefs in Pinellas County, starting in Dec of 1975 with concrete pilings. Previous literature stated that in Jan of 1976 over 41,000 car & truck tires were placed here along with culvert pipes. I remember diving in the late 70's and witnessing the massive dumping of the banded tire bunches. Unfortunately this has proven to be a mistake as every strong westerly storm washes the long ago busted loose tires up on the beaches. Dominantly constructed of culvert piles, in spring and fall when the water clears  this 30' deep reef has some great diving.

MAD... Madeira Beach Artificial Reef was started in August of 1977 with culvert pipes and concrete rubble. A large pile in the south section has relief close to half the water depth of 32 feet and attracts lots of bait and  the rest of the food chain. The 35 lbs cobia at left was speared there in October of 2007. This is one of my favorite spots to hit on the way back in or when winds are easterly.

SKI12 & SKI7...  are called Sand Key nourishment sites  and also Inshore Mitigation Reefs (IMR). There are 29 according to the county from Indian Shores to Clearwater about half a mile or less off the beaches where shown on the chart. I have freedove these two when the visibility was good in the fall of 2005 from a kayak and was thrilled to shoot the 12 lbs gag shown at right in just 12 to 15 feet of water!

21... HS Ledge is a long winding shallow water ledge that often has big stone crabs as well as hogfish and sheepshead.
Click for information on stone crabbing.  

Other favorite locations for stone crabbing are both sides of the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers, (the old Skyway Bridge.)

 

 

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