6 Great Scuba Diving Sites in the Tampa Bay Area

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Tampa’s subtropical climate makes it a year-round diving destination. The Gulf of Mexico is known for its warm waters, high visibility, and a multitude of dive sites, from shallow reefs to deep wrecks. 

Tampa’s underwater ecosystem, numerous artificial reefs, and sunken ships attract a variety of marine creatures. This is really a diver’s paradise, and while most people go to the Keys to dive, Tampa is a lot closer if you’re driving from out of state (or even from North Florida) and still gives you some world-class diving.

The one thing to know, though, is that most of these sites are boat diving sites. So while there are some shore diving sites, you’ll likely need to go with a tour operator to fully enjoy the diving in the Tampa area.

If you’re looking for easy, beginner-friendly diving you may also want to check out the Florida Springs.

Recommended: The Ultimate Orlando to Anna Maria Trip Guide

The Sheridan

The Sheridan, a 180-foot-long a sunken ship that now serves as a habitat for a myriad of marine life. The ship was intentionally sunk in 1985 to create an artificial reef and has since become one of the most popular spots for wreck diving in Tampa.

The ship lies in about 80-85 feet of water, with the top deck sitting at approximately 25 feet below the surface, making it accessible for divers of various skill levels. The ship is now encrusted with corals and sponges and teeming with grouper, snapper, and barracuda.

South County Artificial Reef

The South County Artificial Reef is another great spot. The reef, which is made up of a variety of materials including concrete and limestone, provides a unique underwater landscape. Schools of fish gather around the concrete structures, while crustaceans hide in the crevices of the limestone. 

The South County Artificial Reef is located at a depth of around 40 feet. There are four sunken boats there; three steel barges and one tugboat. So you can also get the chance to do some wreck diving after checking out the marine life around the concrete piles.

John’s Pass Reef

Another popular location for scuba diving in Tampa is John’s Pass Reef. This artificial reef, located just off the coast of Madeira Beach and was created just a few years ago.

It’s made up of concrete culverts, creating nooks and crannies that provide shelter for an array of sea creatures. It is located about 10 miles from the South County Artificial Reef.

You’re likely to encounter schools of grunts and snappers, as well as a variety of other species such as spiny lobsters, octopuses, and even the occasional stingray or sea turtle.

The reef’s structure makes it an interesting dive site. Its varying depths, from 30 to 45 feet, offer different perspectives and exploring opportunities. The reef is well established, with the marine life making full use of the artificial structures.

Clearwater Beach

The allure of scuba diving in Tampa extends to Clearwater Beach. Known for its crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches, Clearwater Beach is a diver’s dream. It’s also one of the best beaches near Orlando.

The waters around Clearwater Beach are teeming with life. Here you’ll be greeted by a myriad of colorful fish, from parrotfish and angelfish to the elusive moray eel. 

The area’s reefs also host a variety of coral species, creating a vibrant underwater landscape for you to explore.

Clearwater Beach offers a range of dive sites, but most are boat sites here. This includes:

  • Veterans Reef: About 9.8 nautical miles from Clearwater Pass. Depths here are around 45 feet.
  • Clearwater Reef: About 4.1 nautical miles from Hurricane Pass, sitting in depths of about 30 feet.
  • Dunedin Reef: About 4.2 nautical miles from Hurricane pass and in depths of about 30 feet.

Fort De Soto Park

Underwater Splendor at Fort De Soto Park, Florida - Pinfish and Mangrove Snapper

Fort De Soto Park is located pretty far south, on a small set of islands south of St. Petersburg. It has some diving, although maybe not as good as other dive sites in Tampa. 

Here is a forum post, that while it’s very old, people talk about it having lower viz than other sites. One good thing is that the diving is right off the bridges, so it’s a shore dive.

And there can be some good diving, as the above video really shows.

Egmont Key

Dive In and Explore the Waters by Snorkeling Egmont Key in St. Pete/Clearwater

Egmont Key is a secluded island with some outstanding diving. It is located south of Fort De Soto, but there is a ferry that goes out here, which is great. The waters are clear and the diving is excellent. There are also shallower waters that make for great snorkeling.

Egmont is home to three sunken forts, and there are also concrete bunkers to check out.

Egmont Key Snorkeling Dolphin Tour

Go snorkeling around Egmont Key and look for dolphins and other wildlife on this half-day boat tour from Madeira Beach with a small group.

Scuba Diving Operators

There are several dive operators and tours in Tampa that offer guided dives to these and other dive sites. These operators provide all the necessary equipment and safety briefings, ensuring that even novice divers can enjoy the underwater wonders of Tampa.

Here is a list of popular dive shops and tour operators in the area:

Even if you’re an experienced diver, it’s always nice to go with a local guide that knows the area.

More Information

It can be difficult to find reliable information on diving in this area. Here are some things that can help as you plan your trip.

Visit St. Pete Clearwater – Best Dive Sites

Great video highlighting the diving here, with even more dive sites to check out.

YouTube video player

Pinellas County Artificial Reef Map

Pinellas County Artificial Reef Guide is available too. Here is a guide on dive sites near Treasure Island that is also helpful.

The Bottom Line

The Tampa Bay area is a great spot for diving of all experience levels. If you’re just starting out, you’ll find plenty of places to get your scuba certification and calm waters for your open water dives.

If you are looking for a more adventurous dive, there are shipwrecks too, where you can dive inside them and also see some big marine life.