When my husband and I moved here several years ago, we found ourselves at the beach every week, enjoying the sand and sun. Scuba divers for more than two decades, we wanted to try to find Megalodon teeth, whale vertebra, mastodon teeth, and other ancient treasures found in an underwater fossil bed just off the coast. With more than fourteen miles of beach from Casey Key to Manasota Key, our area offers endless opportunities to shore dive. Divers must display a minimum 12”x12” Diver Down flag and stay within 100 feet of it, but aside from that, grab your gear, a tank and a compass and start exploring! Remember, too, divers must stay at least 100 yards away from the Venice Jetty and the Venice Fishing Pier, so although that area is a great spot for a post-dive lunch, don’t plan your dive here!
One of the best places to dive and search for fossils is at Service Club Park, which has showers for before and after your dive. “When you get to the beach, turn 45 degrees to the right and swim out 350 yards,” says Ben Schultz, owner of the Venice Dive Center and a fossil expert. There you’ll find gravel and fossil beds and it can be a good place to look for Megalodon teeth. It can take twenty minutes to swim out to twenty feet of depth, but you’ll know you’ve arrived when the bottom changes from plain sand to black sand ripples full of shells and teeth. Take a 250 degree heading from shore and swim out until you’re even with the pier. Descend fifteen feet and you’ll be in a good area for teeth. Fifty yards west is a coquina reef full of fish.
South Brohard Park is another popular beach for shore diving. Cross the boardwalk on the left closest to the parking lot entrance. Take a heading of 250 degrees, cross over the sand bar, and 50 yards farther out is an artificial limestone block reef in fifteen feet of water. Enjoy the fish and fossils around this area. If you take a 270 degree heading, you’ll swim over a lot of sand, then suddenly reach a coquina reef in fifteen feet. This sedimentary rock supports algae and grasses and provides habitat for crabs, hogfish, snapper, sea robins and black drum. Take a heading of 300 degrees and swim out 250 yards to an area of black sand, broken shells and potentially some fossils.
The end of Alhambra Road is another popular shore diving spot. There are no facilities and parking is limited, so gear up at your vehicle and follow the sand path to the shore. Swim directly offshore until you come to the small sand channels with shells, fossils and teeth.
Shore diving at Manasota Beach involves a long swim out, and the fossil beds aren’t as defined. The times I’ve dived there, I've been pleasantly surprised by the hundreds of sand dollars and unusual creatures like gaudy clown crab, toadfish, sea nettles, and flying gurnards.
Shore diving takes work and preparation. Visibility is usually less than ten feet and it’s difficult to keep track of dive buddies. I make sure each diver has a flag and compass. We review our plan in case we lose each other.
When you’re ready to get offshore into deeper water, there are several dive boat operators to choose from. Venice Dive Center is the only full-service dive shop in Venice and offers daily trips, gear for purchase and rental, and dive classes. Their Coast Guard certified vessel carries up to eight explorers. The knowledgeable crew takes divers to the best locations along the famous ‘The Boneyard’ fossil bed, which is between 1 ½ to 3 miles offshore. The two-tank trip leaves at 7:30 AM and returns around noon.
Other local operators include Top 2 Bottom Charters, which offers shark tooth dives, spearfishing, and personalized trips for up to six. Black Gold Fossil Charters runs a daily three-tank dive limited to four fossil hunters per trip. Aristakat Scuba Diving Charters offers both morning and afternoon trips. Aquanutz is a full service charter that focuses exclusively on fossil dives and does three dives a day.
Whether it’s from a boat or from shore, make diving part of your summer adventure!
Venice Dive Center. 941.497.5985. Venicedivecenter.com
Top 2 Bottom Charters. 941.525.8744. Top2bottomcharters.com
Black Gold Fossil Charters. 941.893.0669. Blackgoldfossilcharters.com
Aristakat Scuba Diving Charters. 941.321.0852. Aristakat.com
Aquanutz. 941.961.2235. Aquanutz-diving.com