It’s always turtle time along the Jupiter Coast, but there are certain months that see a significant increase to our local sea turtle population. The beaches along Jupiter, Florida host one of the densest sea turtle nesting populations in the nation. That means chances are good that divers will encounter sea turtles whenever they dive, but between March and October, the likelihood of seeing one or more of these fabulous marine creatures skyrockets!
Five species of sea turtles can be found in our area, but if you don’t know the difference between a loggerhead and a hawksbill you can’t fully appreciate one of this area’s wonders. The three most abundant species are the loggerhead, green and hawksbill. Less abundant are the leatherbacks and the Kemps’ Ridleys. All are considered endangered.
Let’s break them down.
Loggerhead sea turtles have massive heads, strong jaws, and a reddish-brown shell, or carapace. Adult males reach about three feet in shell length and weigh about 250 pounds.
Green sea turtles, as their name suggests, are green. They are typically 3-4 feet in length, have small heads and have four scutes (the keratin shell plates) on each side of their shells.
Named for their narrow heads and bird-like beaks, hawksbill sea turtles have the most colorful shells of the marine turtles.
Leatherback sea turtles are pelagic by nature, so their return to their nesting area is often the only time divers can see them. The largest of the marine turtles, they typically weigh between 700 and 1500 pounds at maturity and can reach lengths from 4 to 8 feet. Unlike other sea turtles, the leatherback has a soft shell that resembles leather. As pressure increases on their deep dives, the shell compresses.
Kemps’ Ridley sea turtles are the smallest of the sea turtles, weighing between 75-100 pounds and rarely topping 2 feet. They have triangular heads and hooked beaks. These are the only sea turtles that nest during the day.
So now that you know the basics about how to identify the species, where can you go to see them?
First up, Loggerhead. As its name suggests, Loggerhead is a great place to look for, well, loggerhead sea turtles. The relatively shallow reef offers plenty of prominent ledges under which the sea turtles can be caught napping or feeding. But in addition to loggerheads, also look for Hawksbills and greens.
Lighthouse and Bonnies are two other reefs that are popular with sea turtles (and the divers who love them!).
Want to learn more?
Because of their love of the ocean, divers often become some of the staunchest marine advocates. Our friends over at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center share our enthusiasm, and are dedicated to promoting the conservation of ocean ecosystems and focus their attention on threatened and endangered sea turtles. Together, we provide an in-depth Sea Turtle Awareness program that will help ensure that the magnificent turtles we see today will continue to delight divers well into the future.
It is a rare reef dive, indeed, that a diver surfaces without spotting a lobster. Spiny Lobster love tropical and subtropical waters, and the reefs off Jupiter teem with the crustaceans.
Their name derives from the spines that protrude from their carapace and provide protection from predators. Often the first sign a lobster is present is one or both of their two long antennae is protruding from a crevice in the reef or from under a ledge. They can vary in color from nearly white to a dark red or orange hue and have two large cream-colored spots on the top of their tail.
Lobsters start life as a tiny egg carried on the abdomen of the female lobster. Once hatched, the current carries the larvae –sometimes thousands of miles–until they are deposited in the shallows, often in seagrass. Lobster will spend their adolescence close to shore, only migrating to offshore reefs as they near maturity.
Reefs provide lobster with a safe habitat. They typically forage at night, often waiting a few hours after dark before emerging from their dens and then retreating to their shelters a few hours before sunrise.
Lobster meat is delicious and Florida allows the harvesting of spiny lobster between August 6 through March 31st every year.
So where can you find spiny lobster?
In theory, any reef with nooks crannies, or ledges can be home to lobster, but as any diver knows, it’s location, location, location.
Area 29 is one of the reefs we regularly visit, and there are plenty of lobster to be found at that location, but during lobster season, we also visit reefs that are less frequented—including 19th Hole and Center Street.
Regulations: Divers must possess a recreational saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit to legally harvest spiny lobster. Lobster must be brought up to the boat whole (in the event FWC conducts an inspection). There are size requirements, and harvesting an egg bearing lobster is strictly prohibited.
Many divers harvest lobster either by hand or with the help of a tickle stick. Any device which could puncture or otherwise damage the shell or flesh of the lobster is prohibited. Underwater hunters also need to keep up to date on bag limits. All regulations can be found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster/
Some divers only dive during lobster season, and if that sounds familiar, there are a couple of things to remember. Make sure your equipment is in good shape and serviced before you hit the water. All the diving off Jupiter is drift diving and you’ll need your own surface marker buoy.
Watch your gauges. In the thrill of the chase, it’s easy to go deeper and stay longer than you intended. And speaking of keeping an eye on things, pay attention to your buddy. Hunting or not, the unexpected can still happen.
Finally, remember to enjoy the dive. Dinner is a bonus!
Few underwater encounters spark the imagination as much as seeing a shark while diving. Sharks play a critical role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems and the waters off Jupiter Florida provide habitat for a wide variety of sharks. Identification is often based on body features such as type and number of fins, snout shape, and number of gill slits.
Caribbean reef sharks are commonly found under ledges and grow to nearly 10 feet long.
Nurse sharks are nocturnal hunters and return to the same resting place each day. Growing up to 10 feet in length, they have a sweeping curved tail and whisker-like barbels.
Bull sharks frequent both salt and freshwater locales. Reaching lengths of over 11 feet, they have thick bodies and can be territorial.
Tiger sharks are identified by their distinctive striped markings–the younger the shark, the darker the markings. Tigers can reach up to 21.5 feet.
Lemon sharks are migratory and visit the waters off Jupiter during January and February. Known for their color, Lemon sharks have a pale lemon brown hue to their skin. Mature lemon sharks typically measure in around 10.5 feet.
Blacktip reef sharks are easy to identify by the black markings on the tips of their fins. Also, migratory, these sharks swim through Jupiter in large aggregations usually beginning in February.
Although less common, hammerhead sharks with their distinctive T-shaped heads, Katherine, a tagged celebrity great white shark, and even gigantic whale sharks have graced the waters off of Jupiter.
Divers can see sharks any time they jump in the water, but some dive sites are more popular with the pelagics than others. Captain Mike’s is popular with reef sharks and rays year-round, and popular with lemon sharks in January and February. Lemon Drop, as its name suggests, sees an influx of lemon sharks in the early months of the year. More reef sharks can be found at Area 51. Likewise, look for reef sharks on Tunnels as soon as you dive in, and then toward the end of the dive at the Donut Hole, look for Caribbean reef sharks napping in the hole. Lemons also visit the Zion Train. Nurse sharks can be found anywhere there are ledges and often call one place home their entire life.
Not everyone wants to see a shark, but the fear of sharks is often based on a lack of understanding. If encountering a large marine animal makes you nervous, consider taking a Shark Specialty Course, and learn how to identify the different species that frequent our waters, and learn how to evaluate shark behavior. Seeing a shark shouldn’t be frightening, but it should always be exciting!Goliath Grouper
Encountering goliath groupers while diving is a bucket list experience. You’ll probably hear them first—their distinctive bark booming through the water. Then, when they emerge into view, you’ll realize why they’re named goliath groupers—these gentle giants can stretch up to eight feet and weighing in at a svelte 500 pounds.
Historically, goliaths ranged well beyond our state’s shores, now, they are primarily found in southern Florida’s waters. But the population jumps every year between July and September, when they aggregate off Jupiter, Florida to spawn. Diving with sixty or more of these behemoths is truly an incredible opportunity that only a fortunate few get to experience.
Goliath groupers shelter in and around several of our local wrecks, and during aggregation, Jupiter Dive Center routinely visits the Wreck Trek, a series of three wrecks that in addition to the groupers draws in other large marine animals. The first of the wrecks, the Zion Train, is a small freighter. An east heading will take you to the Miss Jenny, an upside-down barge. From there, a 340-degree course will take divers to the Esso Bonaire—an upright wreck with open holds and a cabin area at the stern where its common to come face-to-face with a grouper.
Another wreck dive is on the MG-111. While this river barge has seen better days, north of the wreck is an area known as Warrior Reef, a collection of concrete pillars that serves as a goliath playground. There, the large fish often stack up in groups facing into the current.
Tunnels, a spectacular reef dive, is a great place to look for goliath groupers and other large animals as well. Bring a flashlight! Several goliath groupers usually hang out by the first of the three tunnels (the source of the dive site’s name). Several more goliaths like to hang out under a substantial ledge that divers will encounter about 25 minutes into their dive.
Goliath groupers are fascinating creatures and if you want to learn more, Jupiter Dive Center is proud to offer an exclusive Goliath Grouper Specialty course where you will learn all about goliath grouper identification, habitat, range, diet and role in the marine ecosystem.