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We were looking through the latest edition of Sport Diver magazine and guess what we found in the Getaways Section…just a great little article about the Dive Locker.

It seems that  during this summer a writer from Sport Diver took an excursion on one of our boats and was so impressed, he/she wrote a great little article about us and the great diving off Panama City Beach.

When you get your copy of Sport Diver in the mail, take a look at pages 60-64, let us know what you think…or just keep reading…

Reprint-   Rigid schedules might work for German train conductors and helicopter pilots, but not for easygoing dive operators. PADI Five Star Dive Center Dive Locker’s charters leave on time from the Treasure Island Marina, but because they typically offer one trip per day, they’re allowed flexibility. So when you encounter a pod of bottlenose dolphins while heading to the dive site, grab your snorkel – you’ll soon be in the water with them.

Dolphins are just one of this area’s big-animal attractions. Year-round, manta rays, stingrays and loggerhead turtles are llikely sightings. Every July and August, whale sharks often drop by, says shop owner Tony Snow.

Also during summer, divers regularly spot leatherbacks – a little – seen in-water species – while aboard the boat.

“Turles breed here,” he says of the famous Pandle sugar-sand beaches. “Sightings are so common on our dives that nobody really mentions them much.”

Today, as we drop in at the BLACK BART – the day’s first dive – I’d welcome seeing turtles or mantas but can’t complain when sandbar sharks slowly circle as we kick our way around the wreck. Sunk in 1993, this largely intact, upright 175-foot-long oil field supply ship has been made safe for divers, making entry into the wheelhouse easy even for those with no penetration training. Light pools in from the former windows, illuminating the stairs as we head into the lower compartments before returning to the perimiter. Clouds of snapper and grouper scatter with each passing diver.

During the leisurely surfact interval, the crew offers a spread any soccer mom would be proud to bring to practice: Gatorade and Capri Sun, water and an assortment of snacks.

After everyone has had his or her fill, it’s time to dive again, this time at ACCOKEEK,  the 195-foot-long Navy tugboat. I’ve been chatting with a guest from Seaside and didn’t realize that everyone else had already begun gearing up.

“Nobody is yelling at you to hurry,” says Snow of the crew’s laid-back nature. “We’re very relaxed but safe. That’s why anyone who dives with us once will always come back.”

The Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail Passport is your gateway to 12 spectacular shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. Filled with fascinating marine life, each shipwreck has its own story to tell, from the world’s largest artificial reef, the aircract carrier USS Oriskany to the FAMI Tugboats.

You may start your journey along the trail at any of the 12 shipwrecks; upon completion of each dive be sure to have your Passport validated with a signature and a stamp from your participating dive shop.

Be sure and note the Passport’s QR Code; it provides direct access to the trail’s webpage through your smart phone or wireless device.

Visit: www.floridapanhandledivetrail.com for additional information.

Local diver spears lionfish; biologists say they’re here to stay

2011-08-30 07:48:42

DESTIN – Jeff Petresky and his wife, Heather, were about to head for the surface after diving on a reef south of the Destin East Pass on Sunday when Heather spotted something weird.

“She was waving her flashlight at me, then down on the reef,” Jeff said. “I swam over and saw what she was shining her flashlight on.”

It was an alien invader – a lionfish.

So Jeff did what biologists hope qualified divers will do: He stuck his spear into the ledge where the fish was hiding and skewered it.

•Report a lionfish. »

•USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species map. »

“It’s still sitting in a Zip-Loc bag in my fridge,” said Jeff, who lives in Shalimar. “I reported it. I’m just hanging on to it to see if anybody wants it.”

Trust us, nobody wants it – at least not out of the Zip-Loc bag. The lionfish is native to the Pacific and Indian oceans but scientists believe it was released into Florida waters a few years ago by aquarium owners and breeders.

Since then the fish has spread to Caribbean and American waters, traveling as far north as Long Island.

Martha Bademan, a biologist with the Division of Marine Fisheries, says it wasn’t seen in Northwest Florida waters until a year or two ago.

“Just in the last two years sightings have increased all over Florida,” said Bademan, who added the fish are here to stay.

“We might be able to keep some localized populations in check, but they’re still going to be there. They’re very capable of dispersing.”

What’s so bad about the lionfish? Biologist say they eat and outcompete native species.

An Oregon State University study conducted in the Caribbean a few years ago found that lionfish reduced the populations of juvenile native fish by as much as 80 percent in a short period of time.

“These fish are having some effect on the ecosystem,” said Pam Schofield with the U.S. Geological Survey. “They may be competing with native snappers and groupers. We need to do some really good scientific studies” on the issue of fish populations and how they’re affected by lionfish.

Worse, they can deliver a nasty sting via spines in their fins. Jenny Tinnell, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said they should be handled with extreme care.

“If they (divers) have a (fishing) license, we do encourage them to take them,” she said of the fish. “But be careful.”

If all that weren’t bad enough, Bademan says there’s a chance swimmers might have to deal with them. “In Southeast Florida they’re seeing them in intercoastal waters.”

Can there be an upside? If properly cooked they’re said to be tasty. But Jeff Petresky said the fish he speared didn’t have enough meat on it to be worth the bother.

“They’re about the size of a pinfish. They look big but the actual fish itself is not that big.”

So this small, tough, venomous glutton of a fish is in Northwest Florida waters. What to do now?

If you’re qualified, spear them. If not, report them to the USGS.

And keep your eyes peeled. As Bademan warned, “I don’t think they’re ever going to go away.”

© Copyright 2011 Freedom Communications. All Rights Reserved.

PANAMA CITY — Millions have enjoyed the sugar sand beaches and clear waters of the Emerald Coast, but far fewer have seen the attractions that wait off the coast, below the surface of the inviting waters.

The Panhandle is the No. 2 most popular drive-to recreational diving location in the country, only behind the Florida Keys, dive instructor and enthusiast Danny Grizzard said. The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s website lists more than a dozen popular dive locations including shipwrecks, bridge remnants, sunken Army tanks, aircrafts and more than 50 artificial reefs teeming with marine life.

In the months following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster that devastated the economy of the Florida Panhandle, Roger Smith, an archeologist with the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, said he found himself contemplating ways to help boost tourism in the struggling region.

Having recently completed two successful public education and interpretation projects related to diving – a collection, or trail, of underwater archeological preserve wrecks from the Keys to Pensacola, and another trail of the very popular fleet of sunken Spanish galleons in South Florida – Smith decided to stick to what he knows and honed in on the region’s already successful diving industry.

After contacting friends in the region, an idea has begun to take shape for an interactive map and trail of Panhandle shipwrecks that will hopefully pique the public’s interest and help bring people back to the Panhandle.

“This would present your classic shipwreck, because when people go diving, that’s what they want to see,” said Gizzard, who is helping to organize local dive shops to assist in the effort.

The trail will likely consist of about a dozen shipwrecks spread from Mexico Beach to Pensacola. He and his team are currently meeting with people in the dive community to take suggestions for sites and put together a list. Some of Panama City’s attractions in consideration for the trail include the SS Tarpon, a steamer used in the Spanish American War to bring troops and supplies to Cuba; the Black Bart, the Grey Ghost, and the Red Sea, all tug boats; and the Chippewa, a coastal freighter.

“The history of each one of these sites is very interesting,” Smith said.

The trail will be designed to accommodate divers with different levels of experience and will have ships at varying depths, Grizzard said.

The trail will be branded as a cohesive unit and “passports,” similar to those produced by the National Parks Service, will be produced to encourage people to visit each of the dive sites and check them off on their passport. Brochures and an interactive website map that can be linked to by dive shops and tourism websites will hopefully spread the word about the trail and what it has to offer, Smith said.

“When people think about coming to the Panhandle they can see that there’s a shipwreck trail and hopefully it’ll keep them there a day or two longer,” he said.

So far, the response to the project has been very positive and energetic, Smith said. He wants the project to be community based and is looking for people who have or are interested in shooting underwater video and photos of the wrecks for the project. Such contributions will enhance the quality of the marketing of the trail, and will speed the project along. Smith said he wants to have the trail and its supporting materials completed by spring 2012.

Though he is not involved in commercial diving anymore, Grizzard said he has owned and operated dive shops and dive charters and he knows almost all of the local dive leaders and he is excited about the potential this project holds for Panama City and the entire region.

“I know how tough last year was, and not just on the dive shops. I really think tourism affects us all,” he said.

Though the project is geared toward tourists, Smith said he thinks it will appeal to more than a few locals as well.

“If you live in Florida, you really need to learn how to dive because there’s so much under the water and it’s quiet and it’s peaceful and it’s beautiful,” he said.

People interested in helping with the project can contact Smith by email at rsmith@dos.state.fl.us

Many locals feel that fall is the best time of year in the Florida Panhandle. Now they have a little more proof that they’re right. National Geographic’s website this week listed the Emerald Coast as one of its Top 10 fall travel destinations.

 Autumn along northwestern Florida’s 24-mile-long Emerald Coast brings fewer tourists and lower, “value season” rates to the wide, sugar-white beaches.

 You can’t ask for better weather. The water is never prettier than it is in the fall and it’s a great destination. Our weather starts turning perfect right there about the first of October. The summer-worthy temperatures (highs in the 80s, lows in the 60s) are ideal for swimming in clear, emerald-green Gulf of Mexico waters or for golfing the more than 1,080 manicured championship holes.

The world is catching on to what we’ve always known.


Recently heralded as one of five top value destinations for winter travel by CNN.com, Panama City Beach has now made the list of AOL Travel’s “Top Ten Budget Destinations for 2011.”

The article emphasized affordable accommodations and oil-free beaches, as well as mentioned two major events which occurred in 2010: the opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and a news-worthy visit from the Obama family.

“We are thrilled to add this recognition to Panama City Beach’s list of accolades,” states Dan Rowe, President/CEO of Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “With the wide spectrum of accommodations, dining and entertainment options offered here, we are proud that our REAL.FUN.BEACH. destination is considered an affordable hot spot for 2011.”

Panama City Beach was in good company, with domestic and international destinations like Montreal, Cancun and Washington, D.C. also making the cut for AOL Travel’s list, which can be viewed in its entirety here

Dive Locker makes Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the best dive operations! According to Scuba Diving Magazine Dive Locker is listed in the 2011 Readers Choice Top 100.

Terry Ward of Scuba Diving Magazine visited PCB recently and spent three (3) days diving with us. The article came out in the January issue.

The following is a reprint of the article.

Panama City Surprise
Florida’s spring-break capital is bustling with wrecks, bridge spans and some of the stat’s fishiest dives —By Terry Ward

The booty music blasting from beachfront party clubs like Club La Vela on Panama City’s white-sand shores feels a universe away when you submerge in the clear Gulf waters a few miles offshore. The reefs here don’t hose the diversity of tropical species you’ll see in Florida’s southern waters, but sponge-covered limestone shelves attract their share of wrasses, butterfl angelfish and slipper lobster. Panama City’s real calling cards for divers, however, are big animals — whale shark and manta sightings occur in the summer months —-and adrenaline-charged wreck diving, with the best action found on the 30 or so wrecks and spans sunken at depths of around 65 feet and below.
Dive shops classify trips into “inshore” and “offshore” sites, but don’t let the wording confuse you. Inshore sites are typically around three to six miles offshore and bottom out between 60 and 80 feet, while offshore sites are a little farther out (up to 13 miles), offering some solid wreck and span dives at depths averaging between 90 and 105 feet. Whether you’re inshore or offshore, you;ll see the same tropical and game species, for the most part—what sharks are more often sighted inshore—but the offshore sites tend to be more abuindant with fish life, since they’re lee frequently dived.
Diving inshore, urchins and sponges grow thick on the wreck of the Red Sea, scuttled in 2009. It’s an easily penetrated wreck sitting at 70 feet and holds lots of everything—from goliath groupers pushing the 300 pound mark to smaller jacks and damsels. Look for blue chromis flitting in and out of urchins, and rough-headed blennies poking from sponges in the steel. Spadefish often patrol over the engine room and smokestack.
A shore boat ride away at Hathaway Span 12, divemasters sometimes have trouble seeing where to anchore for all the schooling baitballs that cloud the span like silvery shadows. Fin across the bottom to shelter from the current — if you’re lucky, you might see a seahorse hooked tight to a weed —and then cross back over the top of the span to mingle with the bailballs and hunting amberjack packs.
Panama City’s offshore dives deliver more sunken bridge spans and wrecks, including the Florida Aquatic and Marine Institute Tugs — two tugboat wrecks lying on top of each other (the bottom wreck is just the hull) in about 100 feet of water. Nearby the Accokeek, the area’s largest wreck at nearly 200 feet long, is a former Navy supply ship that sits upright on its keel. The wheelhouse is at 65 feet and there are plenty of opportunities for penetration. Look for sandbar sharks and nurse sharks here.
“In Panama City, there’s not one thing to hang our advertising on, like the Vanderbery (Key West) or the Oriskany (Pensacola),” says Tony Snow of Dive Locker, summing up the Panama City diving experience. “But we do have a lot of wrecks and bridge spans. Come here and you’ll have lots of places to dive.”
You might even get a snorkel bonus too — on the way back to shore, dolphins are often spotted finning the surface, and captains are only too happy to cut the engines and let you join them for a frolic.

WHEN TO GO Year-round
DIVE CONDITIONS Water temps can vary by as much as 30 degrees throughout the year with summer through late October generally above 80 degrees and winter months dipping into the low 60s. Average visibility is 50 feet, but August through October can reach up to 100 feet.
OPERATORS DIVE LOCKER (DIVELOCKER.NET) RUNS DAILY TRIPS INSHORE AND OFFSHORE. Rooms at the Shores of Panama (shoresofpanamacitybeach.com) start from $119. per night.
PRICE TAG DIVE LOCKER charges $79 for two tank dives inshore and $89 for a two tank day of diving offshore.

A recent CNN.com article announced Panama City Beach as one of the FIVE VALUE destinations for winter travel, noting that “with highs in the 6Os even during winter, there’s always something to do in the area.”

Panama City Beach is situated on 27 miles of sugar-white sand beaches bordering clear, emerald-green waters where the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay converge. With more than 300 days of sunshine annually and attractions such as St. Andrews State Park and Pier Park, the region has long been favored by travelers seeking an affordable beach vacation with year-round offerings for families, couples, groups and adventure seekers. These include championship golf courses, spas, sporting events, award-winning dining and diverse recreational activities such as deep sea fishing and the best scuba diving in the Panhandle.