Florida's Museums in the Sea
Most people know Florida has museums throughout the state. In fact, the Florida Association of Museums lists over 400 museums around Florida. Did you know there are 12 underwater museums?
Florida was perhaps the most popular destination for exploration by the British, French, Spanish and several other countries starting in the 1500’s. Exploration was the way for governments to expand their territory and wealth from lands they claimed in the new world. Many monarchies financed ventures in Florida and the Caribbean in hopes of finding gold, silver and other commodities to enrich their throne.
The rush to find wealth was despite the dangerous waters and shallow reefs around the coastline of Florida. As a result, hundreds of ships were lost on these trips to the uncharted or poorly documented waters around Florida’s coast.
As the state grew, navigating around Florida was a major route to New Orleans and other ports. Again, storms and shallow waters claimed many cargo vessels until improved navigational charts and weather data lessoned the threat to shipping.
The lost ships became living underwater museums and reefs that harbor marine life. Florida has a continuing program devoted to preserving our history. Part of these preservation initiatives resulted in Florida’s Museums in the Sea.
Today there are 12 sites where divers and snorkelers can view our seafaring past and the dangers that caused ships of all types to end up in our coastal waters.
The subjects of the underwater museums include:
- USS Massachusetts – Spanish-American War era battleship.
- SS Tarpon – steam vessel that went down in a storm in 1937
- Vamar – sunken ship off Mexico Beach for unknown reasons.
- City of Hawkinsville – built in 1896, sunk in fresh water in Suwannee River.
- USS Narcissus – sunk in 1864 by a mine at the end of the Civil War
- Regina – a barge that sunk in 1940.
- San Pedro – part of the Spanish fleet that sunk in 1733.
- Half Moon – Sank in the 1930’s, the vessel was seized during wartime in 1914.
- SS Copenhagen – steamship that crashed on a reef in 1900.
- Loftus – merchant ship that wrecked in 1898.
- Georges Valentine – iron steamer built in 1869.
- Urca de Lima – part of the Spanish fleet and sunk in 1715.
If you explore the website for Museums in the Sea, each of the above ships are described in detail along with the history relating to each. The locations of each “Museum” underwater is listed. Each individual ship has a video describing the scenes at the site.
Some of the ships above are in very shallow water suitable for snorkelers or free divers. Many have the appearance of a huge reef supporting coral, fish and other sea creatures. Underwater photography opportunities are endless.
These 12 sites are preserved by the State of Florida. However, there are hundreds of shipwrecks around the state. One fishing site lists several hundred shipwrecks with GPS co-ordinates. Fishermen know a couple hundred year old wreck becomes a great place to fish!
Most of these underwater museums have charters that are willing to take you to the wreck sites. Many have dive equipment for rent. Don’t miss these Museums in the Sea. Florida Travel Log recommends adding these locations to your next day trip.
For even more about Florida shipwrecks, visit the Florida Museum, 400 Years of Shipwrecks.