Every which way you can imagine
Here is a list of all the things Florida has to offer. No wait, that would take too long. It might take vastly less space to mention what Florida doesn’t have: volcanoes, mountains, and senior citizens that can drive well. That’s about it. Particularly for divers, Florida seems to have just about everything: caves, wrecks, reefs, and all in abundance.
Even if you’ve never cave dived, and aren’t cave certified, you can still get into a "cave" in Ginnie Springs which is one of the most famous cave diving locations in the world. If you do happen to be cave trained then you likely already know all about northern Florida, no matter where on the globe you call home.
Off the coast there are plenty of wrecks to dive, and more by the day. An active artificial reef program seems to drop a wreck frequently, giving divers more places to play and fish more places to call home, which attracts even more divers. Having had only a precious few days to dive the area I’ve only seen three wrecks (Duane, Bibb and Eagle) but by the accounts of those who have done vastly more diving there than I ever will, they are among the best the state has to offer.
Having been cave trained in Mexico where, let’s face it, there’s a great deal more detail to see in the underwater caves, I was greatly concerned about what there would be to see in their Floridian counterparts. There would be no amazing formations hanging from the ceiling, no corresponding spires from the floor either.
Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Peacock. The walls were not as smooth as Ginnie or Little River, and there were actually a couple of really interesting formations: one a horizontal hole and the other a near-vertical column. Ok, so there are likely many more interesting things than those in this very system but hey I was new, and didn’t make it all that far.
So this is duckweed. Doesn’t look much like a duck. It’s the green stuff contaminating the surface of the second last photo. It’s actually millions and millions of little green circles, micro lily pads of a sort. They infest the surface of some cave systems, and here they’re quite good at it. I’ve heard they were artificially introduced years ago to clear up the visibility which sounds rather like adding more dynamite in the hopes of getting a smaller explosion.
I was a Florida cave virgin before this site, so in essence, she was my first. While she wasn’t exactly the Marilyn Monroe of caves, it was still a nice introduction despite having been rather heavily used as a training cave so it was more like a Janeane Garofalo. Finger and fin prints in the sand were frequent, and you could see bright spots on the walls and ceiling where divers had bumped their tanks.
It didn’t take long to see how seriously they take cave safety - ran into the stop sign in the first shot virtually right away. My guess is that’s a good precedent to set, yet likely remains something most people don’t stop to actually read.
Florida caves can be deceiving. The "lake" you enter through can be quite sizeable, suggesting wide open spaces while lying to you through it’s aquatic smile. Madison Blue is one of those places. Descending the stairs to a sizeable pool of water you’re prepared for a nice easy entrance, not the kind of squeeze necessary to get just about anywhere. Short but wide, would be a good description, similar in stature to my own, which compresses poorly into such restrictions but this is cave diving and squeeze you must.
The passages of the cave system were considerably wider than the entrance (thank goodness for that) but still narrow overall, and the fine sand and silt made it necessary to keep close tabs on any gear that hung a little lower than it should. Not the kinda place you’d call particularly camera friendly when your camera is 7′ wide, but the frequent air pockets that clung to the ceiling were too attractive not to shoot.
I’m glad this hadn’t been my first cave system in Florida, or I could have been in trouble. This is the kinda place that you hear about, the ones that make people give up normal lives in normal places, sell it all and move to Florida’s cave country and live in a mobile home (not that I have anything against mobile homes).
Some of the passages look like they’ve been painstakingly carved by miner, perfectly straight and round, with little scalloped cut marks lining ever surface of every wall. It’s truly bizarre, they look too perfect to be natural but that’s exactly what they are.
With tremendous good fortune we were there when the flow of the water was particularly low which meant that only a mild current was encountered while swimming. But I would imagine when you get into one of those perfectly round tunnels while the flow is high and you’ll find out what the spitball feels like getting shot out of a straw.
There is a good chance if you’ve only heard of one cave system in Florida then this is it. Perhaps the most commercialized of any location in the state that features cave diving there is also a considerable open water area for "normal" divers (who haven’t lost their mind yet), tubing, canoeing, as well as swimming.
If you’re diving the caver zone, which any Open Water diver is allowed to do, what you will see is similar to the first shots on this page. Cool stuff, particularly if that’s all you know. Underwater trees, ground that percolates with the bubbles of the divers below - showing just how porous the rock here really is, which in part explains how the caves were formed in the first place. You may even be able to find the grate, essentially a manhole cover with a lock on it that prevents divers from trying to get in somewhere silly. When you swim up to the grate and feel the power of the water flowing out you get a sense of how good an idea it really is.
Now, if you’re silly and are cave trained, the pictures which follow might be more in line with what you recall of Ginnie. There’s still more than a little bit of flow from time to time, particularly at the restrictions, but it’s a good place to work on your pull-and-glide technique while trying in vain to save your fingerprints from getting sanded off. Good luck with that. Some areas of the cave are gorgeous with bright tan coloured sand and limestone walls, while others are nearly black. Being a relative cave novice I haven’t been very far but you could spend more than a dive or two trying to find your way around in here (understatement alert!!).