December can be tricky. It’s cold up north, but, in many places, not cold enough yet for ice diving. Don’t let winter season stop you from going for a dive in the USA. In a few locales, from Florida to Utah, the water hasn’t cooled off and nor should your enthusiasm for suiting up. Here are some top picks for getting your dive on this December in the United States of America.

Lemon Shark Aggregation on the East Coast of Florida

lemon shark dive - Dive in the USA

In Jupiter, Florida, 90 minutes north of Miami, December marks the start of the lemon shark aggregation. These blunt-nosed, stocky sharks grow up to 11 feet in length, and congregate in groups numbering between 15 and 50. PADI Dive Centers in this area offer drift dives with the sharks, choosing the site based on where they’ve last encountered them. Typically, dives are on wrecks, including the 147-foot M.T. Esso Bonaire. Expect water temps in the mid 70s, thanks to the Gulf Stream.

As lovers of the ocean and marine life, divers want to make sure they aren’t harming these precious creatures. Luckily, there are countless PADI resources for divers who are interested in shark conservation and encounters. For any dive experience, it’s imperative to follow the Do’s and Don’ts of Marine Life Interactions. Shark enthusiasts can also greatly benefit from the AWARE Shark Conservation specialty course.

Dive in the USA – Hammerheads in the Flower Garden Banks of Texas

hammerhead shark dive

In the Gulf of Mexico, offshore from Texas, hundreds of scalloped hammerheads, as well as eagle rays, descend upon the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a collection of reefs 115 miles from shore. Dive liveaboard operators visit the area year round, but December is the best time to encounter the hammerheads.

It’s important to note that scalloped hammerheads, as well as great hammerheads, are classified as critically endangered. Bycatch and the global shark fin trade are the greatest threats to these majestic animals. PADI AWARE Foundation® is helping to reverse shark population declines. Help their cause by making a donation. Learn more about PADI AWARE Foundation’s conservation strategy and recent achievements.

Homestead Crater, Utah

Homestead Crater

Possibly the warmest water occurring naturally in North America in December is 95°F (35°C), and it’s found in the Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah (less than an hour’s drive east of Salt Lake City). The Crater is a geothermal spring, hidden within a 55-foot tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock located on the Homestead property.

Over 10,000 years in the making, the Crater was formed when melting snow on the Wasatch Mountains seeped deep within the earth. Two miles below the surface, the earth’s interior heated the water. As it percolated upward, it picked up minerals, which were then deposited on the surface — eventually forming the volcano-shaped limestone deposit called The Homestead Crater.

The 65ft (20m) deep crater is primarily used for dive training, but it welcomes recreational pleasure divers as well. Visitors can marvel at the dome-like rock walls of the crater and mineral dome, which spans 400ft (122m) across and 55 (16m) high. The walls are ridged, appearing like the sides of a stack of pancakes.

Have friends or family who aren’t divers coming along for the adventure? This is a great site for divers and non-divers alike. You don’t even have to get wet if you don’t want to! Or you can enjoy a plethora of other activities, such as swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, enjoy a therapeutic soak or even take a paddle board yoga class.

Dive in the USA – River Diving on the West Coast of Florida

Manatee Crystal River - Dive in the USA

Over on the west coast of Florida, December’s colder temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico drive the West Indian manatees to the warmer water of springs, such as famed Crystal River, Florida, about a 90-minute drive north of Tampa. They can also be spotted near Homosassa River, Florida. However, swimming with these sweet marine mammals is for snorkelers only—and well worth the trip.

It’s important to note that manatees are under threat. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, more than 1,100 manatees died over the course of 2021. Facing threats from toxic algae blooms, habitat loss and boat strikes, manatees are dying at a record pace.

Interested in helping these gentle giants? Get involved with organizations like Save the Manatee and 4Ocean. Whether it’s by volunteering or donating, these groups make it their mission to protect manatees by hosting area cleanups, minimizing the threat of plastic ingestion and entanglement, and monitoring feeding areas for a loss in the food supply.

Just outside the town of Crystal River, home of the manatee haven of Three Sisters Springs, is Rainbow River, a drift dive where the water temp is 72°F (22°C) year round. Dive in to encounter alligator gar, redbreast sunfish, bluegills, largemouth bass and painted turtles.

Fathom Five National Marine Park, Tobermory, Ontario, Canada

Fathom Five - Canada

Ok, so technically this one is in Ontario, Canada—a five-hour drive from Detroit, Michigan, and Buffalo, New York—but it’s well worth the border hop.

PADI dive operators in the area offer some of the best freshwater diving in the world. Clear water, submerged geological formations, such as cliffs, caves, and overhangs, and more than 20 historical shipwrecks offer a wide variety of experiences for all. Everyone, from snorkelers to advanced divers, can find magical experiences throughout the park.

Divers willing to brave the 33°F (1°C) water will find that this month brings the clearest water, as well as nonexistent crowds. Granted, it’s shore diving only, as charter season has ended, but a handful of wrecks, such as Forest City, are accessible from shore. Plan wisely, and do inform a few locals of your plan. You’ll definitely want to have your PADI Dry Suit Diver certification.

Dive in the USA – Locate a local PADI dive shop and start your next underwater adventure!

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