Area 51 reef is named for its mystery (or maybe because it is 51 minutes from the dock). “Area 51” is a high- ledge dive site known for its shark activity. Soon after descending divers are frequently greeted by two or three reef sharks curious to see who has dropped by for a visit. They usually come from the east, take a quick look, and swim off, so divers have to be attentive at the beginning of the dive not to miss them. Gigantic Loggerhead turtles may be napping under the ledge at almost ninety feet, or gently resting on top of the ledge at seventy-five feet. Hawksbill turtles are usually eating between the cracks and crevices just off the ledge. Huge green moray eels may be in a crevice on the bottom, or free-swimming along the ledge through the maze created by the enormous pieces that have broken off the ledge. Look for Southern sting rays in the sand and a resident Goliath grouper just under the ledge where there is a sandy spot on top of the ledge. Large schools of Atlantic spadefish frequent Area 51 as do small groups of six or seven large barracuda, cruising against the current together. Bar jacks, Amber jacks, and often schools of Horse-eye jacks are encountered here hunting for their next meal. Never knowing what Mother Nature has in store for us on this dive makes Area 51 always a mystery adventure.
Local reef Area 29 is one of the deeper dive sites at 80? to 90?and is a destination chosen for its good visibility, hunting opportunities, and sightseeing features. When inshore sites are subject to less than acceptable visibility, the boat captains usually resort to “Old Reliable ‘Area 29. At this low-profile site, the ledge is broken up so that as divers drift north they come into a series of “aquariums” that are home to prolific fish and marine critter life. Sightseers can marvel at the variety of tropical fish that inhabit these mini-environments. Palm Beach’s classic big blue Angelfish along with their Queen, French, and Gray cousins are all here. Tomtates and other grunts of several species inhabit these arenas in large numbers. Squirrel fish hide in their little nooks as goatfish stir up the sand to find their next meal, Loggerhead turtles use the ledge to duck under for a nap while the little Hawksbills munch on the sponges. Hunters favor Area 29 for its game fish. In season, it is common to see the prized Gag and Black groupers all over this dive site.
Southern rays hunting for a meal in the sand attract the coveted cobia. Lobsters can be found to east of the main ledge line in the little blowouts and under the coral heads. Although a deeper dive, with its consistent good visibility; sightseeing attractions, and hunting opportunities, Area 29 is “Old Reliable” as it rarely disappoints. One of our favorite Local Reefs.
Often described as one of Jupiter's prettiest local reef, Bluffs is a series of cul-de-sacs along a high ledge. The cul-de-sacs are little aquariums that at their 65 foot depth still show a great deal of color from the corals and sponges. Mixed into all this color are many tropical fish, some in such large schools that it is difficult to see through them. At 65 to 70 feet on top of the ledge, the features of Bluffs can be enjoyed by the novice and experienced drift diver alike- Along the main ledge there is a resident Goliath grouper surrounded by an entourage of Glassy sweepers. Large Green morays are common here as are Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Green turtles which may be napping under the ledge or searching for a meal on top of the ledge. Even though the ledge mesmerizes, don't forget to look to the west once in a while for the huge Southern rays that bury themselves in the sand. Recently, a little Reef shark has taken up residence here and is often sighted by the diver who is attentively looking and lucky enough to be in the right spot. Being one of the easier dives in terms of navigation and depth. and having so much marine life to offer, Bluffs is an often-requested site, for good reason.
A high-profile ledge dive site, “Bonnie’s” is easy to navigate and has spectacular terrain that is ideal habitat for large numbers of fish and marine critters. At the bottom of the ledge at 80 feet there are several places where Goliath groupers are year-round residents. Loggerhead turtles often choose the deep ledge for a hiding place, hoping to not be disturbed from their nap. Snook reside in one of the deep crevices of this site, only slowly swimming away if a diver approaches too closely. Green morays, often 5 to 6 feet long, cruise the crevices of this ledge looking for the next spot from which to hunt. On top of the ledge “Bonnie’s” has a large population of Butter hamlets that have the most gorgeous translucent blue lines on their faces. Their Blue Hamlet cousins protect their territories all along the site. Large schools of Tomtates inhabit the “bays” formed into the ledge, often obscuring the ledge because of their large numbers. All the usual suspects that can be seen on this site are angelfish, grunts, goatfish, wrasses, snapper, and jacks. Whether diving ‘Bonnie’s’ ledge at 75’ – 80’ at the bottom of the ledge, or diving it at 60 to 65 feet along the top, ‘Bonnie’s’ is a dive site that will leave divers smiling and ready to come back as soon as they can.
One of our shallower local reefs at between 58 and 75 feet, Captain Kirle’s gives one the impression of drifting over a series of aquariums. The ledge forms a series of cul-de-sacs, each one with myriad fish and critters. Goliath groupers may be seen at the deep part of the ledge while Green morays generally stay closer to the top. Loggerhead, Green, and Hawksbill turtles can be found both on top of the ledge or napping at the bottom. Nurse sharks, some of them huge, nestle under the ledge. An occasional Reef shark prefers to cruise the top into the current. Blue, Queen, Gray, and French Angelfish, along with their rock beauty cousins give the top of the reef its vibrant colors. Reef, Four-eye and Spotfin Butterfly fishes (usually in pairs) populate the reef for its entirety. As a second dive in a two-tank trip, Captain Kirle’s leaves the diver with renewed awe for the miracles of marine life.
“Captain Mike’s” dive site is one of the most spectacular local reefs Jupiter Dive Center has to offer. It is a high ledge averaging between 15 and 20 feet in height from the sand. Divers start the dive on top of the ledge at about 75 feet over a fish-filled aquarium. As the current carries divers north to a bend in the ledge, they are often met by curious Reef sharks. Around the bend and on to the north cruising along the ledge divers may encounter Spotted Eagle rays flying south, enormous Southern rays hiding in the sand, or, in January and February, Lemon Sharks on top of the ledge for their annual visit. A little further north along the ledge, after a sandy patch about 150 feet long, a point juts out to the west indicating the deep home of “Tug” (or “Tuggle”) the GOLIATH Goliath grouper. This enormous animal is always there, but approach slowly and keep some distance because it is shy and will move away from divers. In late summer, up to ten more Goliath groupers can be seen at this spot as the Goliath groupers aggregate to spawn. On along the ledge Loggerhead, Green, and Hawksbill turtles are common. The little Hawksbills will let you get quite close for a really good look as they munch away on sponges. Large Green moray eels are residents usually found below the ledge in the crevices, frequently free-swimming. Toward the end of the dive, nitrox divers with longer bottom times will be treated to the second Reef shark neighborhood of the dive site. There are usually four to six reef sharks here who want to see who is passing through. With an amazing abundance of marine life, “Captain Mike’s” is a world-class dive site.
Julie’s is often chosen as a second dive on a 2-tank trip because it is relatively shallow at 65 to 75 feet and because it has something for everybody. For sightseers the western side of Julie’s has a gorgeous low-profile ledge that is inhabited by myriad tropical fish. In the nooks and crannies of this ledge dwell the Blue, Queen, French, and Gray angelfish along with their Rock Beauty cousins of all sizes. Look for the tiny juveniles here in their spectacular colors. Four-eye, Spotfin, Reef, and Banded butterfly fish are here, usually in pairs. French, Blue, Stripe, and Spanish Grunts swim in schools around the little cul-de-sacs. Green and Spotted moray eels make the crevices their home. Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles along with Nurse sharks and an occasional Goliath grouper can be found usually under the ledge. The lobster hunters will favor the eastern side of Julie’s where porkfish readily point out the little blowouts in which lobster try to hide. The low-profile, sandy broken bottom is ideal habitat for the “bugs” that draw so many divers to the water. With sightseeing on the west side and lobster hunting on the east, Julie’s is the dive site with something for everybody.
The dive site’s name makes very clear what divers are likely to encounter on this relatively shallow local reef. Usually chosen as a second dive of a two-tank trip, Loggerhead offers a different terrain from the sites with a prominent ledge. There is a lower-profile ledge, but mixed in with it are areas where there are coral heads that form their own mini-eco systems. Some of these places are sandy and offer the opportunity to see large Southern rays, Yellowhead jawfish dancing above their holes (if a diver is very lucky one might see one of the males with eggs in its mouth – a photographer’s dream), Mantis shrimp, or other sand critters. Beyond a sandy spot one returns to the ledge where Hawksbill, Green, and of course, Loggerhead Turtles may be napping or chomping down a meal. The little Hawksbill turtles are quite tolerant and will allow close observation. As divers drift north on this relaxing dive, taking in all the feature the Loggerhead has to offer, they can easily remember the magic that brought them into this wonderful sport.
Named for a scarred Green moray eel who could proudly say “you should see the other guy” Scarface is a high-ledge dive site that is a little shallower than Captain Mike’s or Area 51. At 65 feet on top of the ledge and 80 feet at the sand, Scarface is a great site for novice to experienced drift divers. For the new-comers, the top of the ledge has a series of bowls that are home to many species of tropical fish. Sixty (60) different species are the norm here. Five species of angel fishes, three species of butterfly fishes, three species of hamlets, several species of wrasses, five or six species of grunts, yellowhead jawfishes, barracuda, southern rays, Atlantic spadefish, yellowtail snapper, blennies, gobies and many more all call Scarface home. Experienced divers enjoy poking around under the ledges for the napping loggerhead turtles, nurse sharks, or Scarface’s green moray eel offspring (often five to six feet long) who may be guarding a hole or free-swimming in search of a meal. With the gorgeous, easy to navigate ledge, and so many fish and other marine critters, “Scarface” is drift-diving crowd-pleaser.
Spadefish Point is a partial high-ledge dive site that has a series of cul-de-sacs carved into the top of the ledge. As divers drift north they have several choices of depths. Along the bottom of the ledge at around 80 feet one might encounter napping Loggerhead turtles, a Nurse shark, or a Goliath grouper. Choosing to cruise the top edge of the ledge between 65 and 75 feet, a diver can look down along the ledge and there is a good chance of seeing the green morays that live in the crevices of the ledge or the Green, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead Turtles that are most often found on top of the ledge. About half-way through this dive in one of the cul-de-sacs is a gorgeous arch usually protected by a school of porkfish. The arch stands away from the secondary shallow ledge and offers a terrific opportunity for photographers. The other cul-de-sacs (mostly in the 60? to 70? range) are home to many tropical fish. Angelfish, hamlets, wrasses, grunts, blennies, and gobies make these aquariums home. An easy dive to navigate and dive at no deeper than 75 feet if a diver chooses, Spadefish Point has much to offer both the novice and the experienced diver.
The dive site that never disappoints! Tunnels is a spectacular site because it always has big animals. Soon after the drop, as divers approach the first tunnel, Reef sharks are the greeters to see who the visitors are. Spear fishermen are warned that this is no place to shoot a fish unless one is prepared to deal with half a dozen friends looking for a free meal. For the sightseer, this greeting is quick as a wink. Divers should look east as they approach the ledge. Sharing the first tunnel area are usually three to five Goliath groupers who, being quite shy, slowly move west over the sand as the divers approach. The slower divers go, the more likely they are to get a close look at these behemoth fish. Moving North along the ledge divers almost always encounter schools of Atlantic spadefish. One of the most diver-tolerant fish, a diver can slowly swim through the school of Atlantic spadefish and catch the magic of their human-like faces. Be sure to look occasionally to the west into the sand away from the ledge for ENORMOUS Southern rays buried in the sand with only their eyes showing. Several cobia may give a ray’s position away as they wait patiently for the ray to stir up a tasty meal. Loggerhead, Green, and Hawksbill turtles may be on to pof the ledge or napping underneath. Twenty-five minutes into the dive, under a substantial ledge, several Goliath groupers (especially in late summer) will be looking the curious diver right in the face as the diver peers into the cave-like darkness. Bring a light for this one. Finally, if there is a moderate current, the nitrox divers will reach the Donut Hole section of the Tunnels; this place ALWAYS has something spectacular – Reef sharks live here. A diver might find them napping in the Hole or cruising to the east of the Hole. Goliath groupers like to hide under the small ledge. Nurse sharks know this spot well. Loggerhead turtles find refuge here, sometimes right next to a Nurse shark or a Reef shark. Gag groupers and Black groupers hunt in this area. The Donut Hole is a phenomenal end to this unparalleled dive.
The Zion Train dive site is a series of three wrecks that are home to some fantastic big animals. As divers approach the Zion Train, a small freighter listing to its port side with its bow broken off by a hurricane, the resident Goliath groupers slowly try to find an out-of-the-way corner in which to hide. The wreck, being wide open, allows divers to get a good up-close look at the Goliaths even as they try to hide. In late summer, when Goliath groupers aggregate; there may be as many as six or seven of these giant fish on the Zion Train alone. Just to the east of the Zion Train is a pile of concrete beams. In January and February these beams become the spectator area at 80 feet to view the Lemon sharks. There may be as many as two dozen of these large, impressive sharks circling out into the sand and returning again for another go-around. They make the reef sharks appear very small. Drifting north from the Zion Train, divers come across the Miss Jenny, an upside-down barge that is also home to Goliath groupers as well as Gag groupers and Black groupers. On a 340 degree course from the Miss Jenny (a course clearly marked by rebar stuck in the ground every thirty feet or so) is the Esso Bonaire, the largest of the three wrecks. She sits upright in 90 feet of water with her deck being at about 75 feet. Her holds are wide open and easily investigated. The cabin area at the stern is safely penetrated as long as the diver does not go into the lower areas. Goliath groupers of enormous size can be seen here peeking out of the darkness at the bubble-blowers. Occasionally, Spotted Eagle ray and Cobia visit the wrecks presenting the divers with an encore after the Goliath groupers. Drifting away from the wrecks on the ascent, divers can only be amazed at the incredible spectacle they have just experienced, all here in Southern Florida.
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!