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Discover Underwater Wonders at Navarre Beach Diving Reefs

by Chris Chatelain on September 12th, 2015

Giant sea turtle beside part of the artificial reef in the Gulf off the coast of Navarre Beach, Florida.

(Reef photos courtesy of Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary and Navarre Beach Marine Science Station.)

Navarre Beach marine science station diverTake a look from the balcony of your Navarre beachfront condo or from a beach chair on the sugar-white sands, and there’s no denying that Navarre Beach boasts a natural beauty that stands above most other Northwest Florida vacation destinations.

But there is another vantage point from which Navarre’s beauty begs to be enjoyed — beneath the sea. While Navarre Beach might shine from above, it absolutely sparkles from below!

Most visitors focus on activities on the beach or at the water’s edge, but the adventurous and the curious will want to grab their diving gear (or rent gear nearby) and get underwater and just off the coastline to where the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary has things going — and growing — with a set of artificial reefs. Made up of “trees,” or columns of plates, the 30 reef structures are home to a growing culture of coral, which in turn attracts an impressive and colorful collection of fish and marine life every day. From schools of smaller tropical fish to pairs of sea turtles, game fish, and even octopuses, these reefs put on an ever-changing display like a technicolor show underwater that is sure to captivate each visitor, no matter what your level of experience or your interests.

It is the perfect couple’s adventure and is quite cost effective — particularly if you already own some gear for scuba diving or snorkeling. That’s because there is no cost to dive in and take in the sights under the sea. Yes, that’s correct — the artificial reefs are free to explore at your leisure.

Far less developed than its neighbors of Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, and Destin, Navarre Beach prides itself on being a family-friendly destination featuring a peaceful atmosphere,  serene scenery, and only a handful of structures more than two or three stories in height. It is truly a place where visitors can come to escape and get away from the hustle and bustle and just enjoy the warm sun, cool breezes, and spectacular sights.

So it is only natural that outdoor recreation would be at or near the top of the list of things to do while staying in Navarre. Instead of amusement parks and beach bars, activities here tend to be more along the lines of kayak rides along the coast or discovering sea turtle nests. And that is what makes the artificial reefs such a perfect fit for the Navarre area — it is less about being with the crowd of sunbathers and more about being surrounded by fish in every color imaginable.

Sea urchin on artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Navarre beach, FloridaJust imagine small, brightly colored tropical fish burrowing their way into the plant life on the artificial reefs and finding the perfect hiding spot from bigger fish. Perhaps you might even catch a glimpse of a Florida sea cow, better known as the manatee, or watch as a playful pod of dolphins swims nearby in the gorgeous blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. You never know what you’ll see out there, and the sights are guaranteed to be different each time you go, so you’ll never get bored with the underwater activity.

Carefully planned for more than a decade, three artificial reefs were lowered into the waters of Navarre Beach in 2012. There were reefs put on either side of the barrier island, in both the Santa Rosa Sound as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf reefs are located about 2,000 feet east of the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier and can be found about 300 feet from the shoreline from lifeguard station four and 15 to 20 feet below the surface, depending on the tide.

The Gulf reef offers crystal clear water and incredible visibility for seeing a host of tropical marine life and vegetation. It is perfect for deep dives, but the structures nearest the surface are great for novices as well.  The coral of the Gulf reefs also attracts game fish such as cobia, grouper, king mackerel, and red fish, as well as other eclectic underwater species.

Juana's Pagodas and Sailor's Grill night shot from the water

Juana’s Pagodas and Sailor’s Grill

On the Sound side of the Navarre Beach Marine Park and across the road from the delicious eats and refreshments of Juana’s Pagodas and Sailor’s Grill, divers will find calmer currents in the more brackish waters that attract a different set of marine life than its Gulf neighbors. Well suited for younger divers and less-experienced divers, the Sound-side artificial reefs are chock-full of oysters, which are natural filtering mollusks that sustain shrimp, crab, sea trout, red trout, and other interesting swimmers.

Navarre Beach is still considered a hidden gem among the treasures of Northwest Florida. The artificial reefs of the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary only solidify this statement, as so much of its beauty is tucked away just out of sight below the water and just waiting to be discovered.  This underwater world of wonder is within walking distance of most Navarre vacation rentals, so book your stay today — and be sure to pack your scuba gear and a desire for discovery.

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