The Emerald Coast is best known for its sugar white sand, enchanting sunsets, and sparkling tranquility as far as the sunglasses can see. But you’ll have to ditch the sunglasses and look deeper to get a truly local experience for our most charming locals reside just beneath the waves. With over-the-top beaches and under-the-waves culture, all you have to do is trade your flip flops for fins and dive in.
South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) has peppered the coastline from Miramar Beach to Inlet Beach with 16 artificial reef sites, most within a mile of shore. These artificial reef habitat systems made of steel, concrete, and Florida limestone were designed to provide shelter encouraging marine growth, supply a sustainable food source, and establish a platform for education and awareness.
With all of the reefs accessible from the beach and located near public beach accesses, parking, and restrooms, four snorkel reefs and twelve fish/dive reefs wait just offshore.
For a day of adventure, take your kayak or paddleboard out to one of the four snorkel reefs arranged in fun sea life shapes:
• The dolphin, located off of Miramar Beach.
• The Seahorse, off of Topsail Hill State Park.
• The Sea Turtle, located off of Grayton Beach.
• The Cobia off of Inlet Beach.
Or head out by boat with a GPS device to locate one of the 12 fish/dive (FD) reef sites! Each GPS coordinate can be found on the SWARA website.
If scuba is more your thing, UMA (Underwater Museum of Art), a permanent underwater sculpture garden, artfully awaits less than 1 mile off Grayton Beach.
Each captivating sculpture is alive with sea creatures, creating an unforgettable interactive art experience underwater.
Because it stretches down nearly 60 feet, you’ll have to be an open water certified diver to visit. If you’re not already, Emerald Coast Scuba in Destin provides a special UMA certification course package consisting of 3 phases:
Part 1: From the comfort of your favorite couch, complete the online 8-hour academics portion. If you’re heading down soon for a vacation, you can have it done before you leave home.
Part 2: Next, you’re looking at 2 half days of mastering some mad scuba skills in confined water. (Done in Destin at Emerald Coast Scuba’s training pool).
Part Three! Finally, you get to put those skills to work in 2 open water days. The first half day is in Destin. For your final class, you will be taken by boat from Destin to the UMA off of Grayton Beach. And you will become an officially certified diver in the first underwater sculpture exhibit in North America, complete with bragging rights.
Mark Griffin and Anna Schmitz of Emerald Coast Scuba are heading up the UMA certification courses beginning in 2019. Call Mark at Emerald Coast Scuba (850-837-0955) to start planning your dive date with the Underwater Art Museum. Tell him 30A sent you! You can find more details including course cost and schedule dates and get your certification started online now. Also, check out the UMA Open Water Diver course package.
In addition to Emerald Coast Scuba as a means for visiting UMA, Allison Wickey (UMA founder and contributing artist) said efforts are underway to establish launching capabilities for a dive boat off of Grayton Beach.
We’re not shying away from this pun: we know you can’t wait to dive into your next 30A adventure!
CHRISTY (CHICK) HUGHES is a freelance writer and a respiratory therapist living in South Walton. She and her husband moved to the beach in 2000. One sunset…and the couple never looked back. Find her at her blog chickhughes.com.