30A’s Artificial Reefs – Everything You Need to Know

July 8, 2022

If you thought 30A was all on-shore beach activities and off-shore charter fishing, think again. The truth is: water is a way of life along Florida’s Emerald Coast. And being “on the water” and “near the water” is only half the story; there are also some downright unforgettable ways to get “in the water” and, better yet, “under the water,” too.

In less semantic terms, 30A offers endless ways to experience the best bits of beach life, from body surfing and swimming to fishing and boating. And that’s not all—for snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts, the fine folks at the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) have also turned the area into a primetime destination for underwater exploration.

Here, we’re doing a deep dive (pun intended) on 30A’s artificial reefs—where they are located, how to dive them, why they came into existence, and where the underwater art is located.

A Bit About South Walton Artificial Reef Association

Founded in 2015, the South Walton Artificial Reef Association is a grass-roots non-profit dedicated to constructing, deploying, and monitoring permitted artificial reefs in Walton County’s coastal waters for the benefit and health of the environment and local communities.

SWARA has deployed about 700 artificial reef structures at 16 sites along the coast from Miramar Beach to Inlet Beach. These reefs not only serve as beautiful attractions for the local community and visitors but are also thoughtfully designed to protect, preserve, and promote marine habitats. In fact, this conservation layer was—and is—one of the organization’s primary motivating missions.

So, if you’re (understandably) wrapped up in thinking these reefs are just pure recreational fun, swim easy knowing they’re also fun with a heaping portion of ecological responsibility!

The 30A Reefs

Composed of steel, concrete, and Florida limestone, these artfully designed reefs (as in, they’re literally arranged into various sea creature shapes) are wonderful ways to get underwater and off the beaten path.

A couple of attributes make the reefs especially unique and memorable. First, the way they’re constructed is incredibly thoughtful and intentional. These reef structures are specifically designed to provide shelter and a thriving marine habitat for many species. Each reef site is approximately 40 acres and features a robust network of pre-fabricated concrete and embedded Florida limestone rock modules. The marine animals these reefs have so far attracted are vast and varied, with a massive panoply of fish species and a sizable collection of various invertebrates, reptiles, marine mammals, and coastal birds. For snorkelers and divers, this means FANTASTIC marine wildlife-viewing opportunities!

Another very cool part about these reefs is how accessible they are. All of the reefs are meant to be easily reachable from the shore. The snorkel reef sites can be reached by kayak, paddleboard, or a medium-distance swim with a personal floatation device. The diving sites, meanwhile, are best reached by boat with the help of a GPS device.

Snorkeling Reef Sites

There are four snorkel reefs located between Miramar Beach and Inlet Beach. Each reaches depths of about 10-20 feet. And each is uniquely (and creatively) designed into the shape of a marine animal.

Dolphin Reef

Located in Miramar Beach, the Dolphin Reef is about 685 feet from the shore and comprises 79 individual EcoSystem Reefs.

Seahorse Reef

Located off of Topsail Hill State Park, this reef sits about 715 feet from the shore and has 78 individual reefs deployed in the shape of a seahorse.

Sea Turtle Reef

Located off the beach in Grayton Beach State Park, the Sea Turtle Reef was the first of the snorkeling reefs to be installed back in 2015. Today, it sits about 783 feet from the shore and comprises 58 individual reefs.

Grouper Reef

About 970 feet from the shore, Grouper Reef is the farthest to reach. It’s located off the Inlet Beach Regional Beach Access and comprises 94 individual EcoSystem Reefs.

Fish/ Dive Reef Sites

There are 12 fishing and diving reefs off the coast of 30A at 55-75 foot depths. With the exception of Fish Haven #1, Fish Haven #2, and Frangista Reef, all are located within one nautical mile of shore (these three are located within two and four miles). As mentioned earlier, reaching them by boat with the aid of a GPS device is the best way to access them—and the GPS coordinates for each dive site can be found on the SWARA website. Once you do access the reefs? You’re in for a true scuba diving treat!

These reefs offer some of the best spearfishing in the Gulf for anglers. The fine folks at Emerald Coast Scuba can sort you out with guided trips led by dive professionals.

For certified divers, you can’t beat an open water dive among these reefs. Emerald Coast Scuba offers all the training and certification resources you need to get started if you’re not already licensed to scuba. Keep in mind there are three phases to getting certified: 1) an online 8-hour academics portion (we recommend doing this before your 30A vacation!), 2) Two half-days mastering scuba skills in a pool, and 3) Two open water days in Destin.

Underwater Museum of Art

How’s this for a cool superlative? The Underwater Museum of Art is the first underwater sculpture garden in North America. Pretty cool, right!

Located at a depth of 58 feet and a distance of .93-miles off the shore of Grayton Beach State Park, the UMA is genuinely one of the most unique attractions not just in the area but in the country. For art lovers, the sculptures themselves are fascinating works of art, drawn from artists around the world and curated by a juried selection of judges. For diving enthusiasts, the marine wildlife these sculptures attract is nothing short of spectacular, giving a whole new adventurous and artistic meaning to the term “eco-tourism.”

One for the 30A Bucket List

If you’re a snorkeling or diving enthusiast visiting the 30A area, visiting these artificial reefs is an absolute must. Plain and simple. The sheer bounty of marine life mixed with the environmentally responsible eco-tourism sets this experience apart in many more ways than one. Art, adventure, natural beauty, you name it!—it all comes together as one at the 30A artificial reefs and Underwater Museum of Art.

For all your Destin and 30A lodging needs, we’ve got your back here at Scenic Stays!

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