The Tampa Bay area is famous for its warm water and amazing sunsets. Wildlife in and out of the water is diverse. Florida's manatee take advantage of the extensive Intracoastal Waterway that is a network of coves and waterways between the bay and the gulf. Bottlenose dolphin and the many marine birds frequent the quiet backwaters that also are home to thousands of docks and piers for the many private, public and commercial boats. The best dives are well offshore so find a good dive shop and charter a boat out beyond the barrier islands.
There are many good wreck dives off the Gulf coast of Tampa Bay. The USCG Blackthorn is found in 80 feet of water at Pinellas #2 Artificial Reef Site about 10 miles offshore from Clearwater beach. The ship was a buoy tender, rescue ship and ice breaker since its launch in 1944. After renovations in the yards of Tampa Bay the 108 foot Blackthorn hit the 605 foot SS Capricorn freighter sinking the ship, the tender was pulled up and beyond repair it was laid to rest at Pinellas Reef. The vessel is mostly upside down but is a great site to explore. It is common to see Goliath grouper, Red snapper, mackerel, schools of spadefish and the magnificant whale shark is known to visit this advanced dive site. Another wreck is The Sheridan that also lies on the artificial reef known as Pinellas #2. The 180 foot tugboat sits almost upright and its top is only 25 feet from the waters surface. Huge groupers make the wreck their home and it is common to see mackerel, Crevelle jack and the occasional reef shark.
There are other interesting wreck dives like the Gunsmoke, a marijuana smuggling vessel wrecked in 1977 about 20 miles offshore. This advanced dive is in 70 feet of water and while visibility is not always the best it is an interesting dive that gets you well offshore. The story and intrigue behind the wreck will lure you in and it is said that government divers found a man's body inside the abandoned old shrimp boat when it was discovered.
The wreck dive site far offshore west of Tarpon Springs, Florida is known as Tugboat and Barge. The 105 foot upright tug and 80 foot barge sank in 85 feet of water during high seas and are about one mile from one another. This advanced dive is a far offshore but worth the trip. A wreck dive that is close to shore in just 38 feet of water is the tugboat known as Ghost Tug. This 50 feet long tug is home to some big Jewfish another name for Atlantic goliath grouper and schools of Atlantic spadefish. Because it is so shallow it is a great place for underwater photography of the wreck and marine life.
Shore diving off the many barrier islands of Tampa Bay area is popular for scuba divers and snorkelers. A childhood favorite of mine is Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach. St. Pete Beach Reef and Tug Orange are two worthy shore dives very close off Petersburg Beach for scuba divers or snorkelers to explore. St. Pete Beach Reef has sections of an old bridge, a barge, coral and lots of fish. Tug Orange to its south is a small wreck that is a great place to swim with schools of game fish giving a chance to watch them in the water when they are off the hook. This is also a spearfishing paradise.
The beaches of the barrier islands of Sarasota, Clearwater, Treasure Island and Dunedin also offer offshore exploration and snorkeling fun especially ideal for beginners or casual dives. Regardless of what you do in the day around Tampa Bay do not miss talking a peaceful walk on the beaches at night after the pastel sunsets of western Florida.
I have been diving for over 5 years. I was diving with John Russell while he was certifying a class. After reporting the following things, he is no longer certified with PADI (put in diver number 40957 at http://www.padi.com/scuba/prochek/Default.aspx): 1) Diving in a restricted area. There were plenty of signs that said the bacteria content was too high too swim. He disregarded my comments that it wasn't a place to go diving. 2) Poorly maintained equipment. My secondary was filled with sand a...