by Ellie Toler
For the week of 2017 Special Studies, eight other SDS students and I traveled with the Scuba Shop of Spartanburg to Ginnie Springs, Florida. We were accompanied by Mrs. Wolter, who led a Scuba Special Studies a few years ago and Mr. Henderson who joined as our parent chaperone. For the first part of the week, we attended review sessions at school to make sure that everyone remembered basic skills, hand signals, and safety protocol. We made sure to incorporate some fun into our days though, going to Taco Dog and exploring Petco to kill some time before heading to the Scuba Shop. We spent Monday and Tuesday afternoon at the Scuba Shop to practice skills in the pool, go over plans for the trip, and get fitted for gear.
On Wednesday, we headed down to Florida, and after a seven and a half hour drive, we arrived at our hotel in Gainesville, Florida. There we met our diving instructors, Mike and Cory, from the Scuba Shop, who came with us on all of our dives. As you can imagine, we were pretty exhausted after such a long day in the car, so we grabbed a quick dinner and went to bed. On Thursday morning we left our hotel at 7:15 to get to our first dive site, Ginnie Springs, which was about thirty minutes away. For first time divers, this was our first diving experience, and we were amazed by how peaceful and beautiful the underwater world was. It’s safe to say that everyone was highly impressed though, as the water was incredibly clear and blue. All certified divers got to swim into a huge cavern called “The Ballroom” where they could look around at various rock formations with underwater flashlights. After stopping for lunch, we drove to our next dive location, Rainbow River. Here, a boat met us to carry us upstream where we would begin our dive. Once we got in, the current of the river carried us gently back to where the boat had started. As we drifted down the river, we got to swim alongside underwater wildlife such as turtles, alligator fish, and vibrant river grass.
On Friday morning we awoke early again, checked out of our hotel, and drove to our final dive site called Devil’s Den. Here the water is surrounded by a huge cavern that fell in on itself millions of years ago. This created a sort of reverse funnel with an opening to the outside at the very top. The site originally got its name when Native Americans discovered steam coming out from underground and created stories about a devil. We dove down to about 40 feet where we found many large rocks from the original structure of the den, fossils, and even shark teeth. Since the den’s only source of light is from a small hole at the top, we had to use our underwater flashlights here.
After about an hour of diving, we packed up our gear and then had to make a decision about whether or not to go on a manatee swim at a place called Crystal River, about an hour south. Although it was controversial, we ended up deciding to start heading home since we had a long drive ahead. However, we did get to make a fun stop at the beach in Jacksonville our way back to Spartanburg.
The Scuba Trip to Florida was an incredible experience for first time divers like myself, as well as previously certified divers, and it should definitely be continued as a Special Studies option in the future.