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Caloosa Dive Club marks 50th

By Staff | Feb 20, 2020

Caloosa Dive Club member Sandy Canning's club-winning photograph she took while diving with the group. PROVIDED

A local club that experiences underwater expeditions is celebrating 50 years of exploring local and global waters.

The Caloosa Dive Club of Southwest Florida, established in 1970, is bringing together members of past and present to swap stories and create new bonds over their love of diving this Saturday night at Scotty’s Bierwerks from 5-9 p.m.

From what started as a few residents getting together for their love of diving and spearfishing has grown over the years into a collection of passionate members who take trips near and far to explore the wonders of the ocean.

Most importantly, it’s a way to share good times with good friends.

“We’re fun,” said Carmela Donegan, member and co-chair of the Caloosa Dive Club photography committee and former treasurer. “We’re really a fun group. We’re very excited about our 50th anniversary — it’s a big milestone.”

Dive club members head out on expeditions at least once a month from May through October, as well as other small outings within the group.

They’ve explored the Florida Keys, both the east and west coasts of Florida including the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic side — and even take a yearly, week-long trip to the Caribbean and have ventured to Cozumel, Bonaire, Costa Rica, the Caymans and more. They’ve even gone as far as Fiji and Tonga.

“It’s a whole different world under there,” said Sandy Canning, co-chair of the photography committee and former president and vice president of the club. “It’s things you’ve never seen before. I’m a biologist, so I try really hard to teach out members what they’re looking at.

“I’m really into the behaviors of the fish. You’ll see a mating behavior and a protective behavior.”

Some local treasures divers seek out include the USS Mohawk and Blue Heron Bridge.

The USS Mohawk is a former World War II warship that was retired, or sunk 28 nautical miles off of Sanibel Island and is the first Veterans Memorial Reef dedicated to all U.S. veterans using a military ship.

“We were actually there when they sunk it,” Donegan said.

There is even an artist who creates underwater scenes of the wreck and superimposes art so that it looks like a person, or whatever the subject may be, is engaging with the ship. Then, these pieces of art get hung on the wreck for people to view.

“It’s like an art gallery underwater,” Canning said.

Blue Heron Bridge is a world-renowned dive site in Riviera Beach where an abundance of critters and sea-life inhabit.

“You never know what you’re going to see,” Donegan said. “You can dive the same reef all the time — you usually dive it one way then turn around and come all the way back — it’s just another world — there’s so much to see.”

Donegan and Canning describe seeing squid, octopus, frogfish, nudibranchs, seahorses and so much more while exploring the seas and bodies of water while being members of the club.

Local trips also include places such as Marco Island, artificial reefs in the Gulf and even the Peace River, where they often explore for fossilized shark teeth.

“Shark tooth hunting is like treasure hunting,” Donegan said. “It’s not very deep, and you just take your time and go very slowly and sift through.”

They even take part in a “black water dive” or night dive, which is a really special experience, they said.

Photography has become a staple of the club, as new technology allows for underwater photographs to be possible.

They hold a photo contest every year at their awards banquet, where members show off their amazing finds and is one of their most popular events.

You never know what you’re going to stumble upon, no matter how many times you’ve ventured to the same area, they said.

“You can find the most amazing little creatures — look and see what you can find,” Canning said.

The average diving experience is about an hour, said Canning. Those who wish to dive need to become certified, but becoming a member of the club should be your first step.

Local dive shops give discounts to members of the Caloosa Dive Club, so Canning recommended people join the club, then enjoy the discounted benefits it comes with.

“The diving is so great, and compared to the rest of the world, it’s very inexpensive around here,” Canning said. “We can provide really good diving for a lot less money. It’s very economical.”

Diving with a group is also less of a burden on your wallet rather than going out with just a few people.

Canning and Donegan said it’s fairly easy to learn how to dive and members are certainly welcomed even if they don’t want to get in the water.

And of course, safety is always first.

“We take diving very seriously as far as safety is concerned,” Donegan said. “We have a safety committee — we’re always talking about safety and our experiences in the water. We all learn from each other. We all look out for each other.”

The club includes members with advanced certifications and over 1,000 logged dives.

The camaraderie is strong in the group and the opportunities are never-ending to explore.

Donegan and Canning said the many places they travel to give members a wide variety of oceanic life and ecosystems.

Being a member also means giving back to the community. The dive club often gathers to clean up local beaches and waterways — on the shore and in the water.

Members have even made works of art out of their findings that are creative and unique. Canning has made many works out of shark teeth and other things she may find while diving.

Moving forward, members hope to include some more of the younger generation in their outings or anyone who is interested in the world of diving, no matter their skill level.

The club meets at the Tony Rotino Center meet every Thursday (sans the last Thursday of the month) beginning at 7 p.m. All meeting are open to the public.

They also host events all year such a club dinners, a canoe trip, a benefit softball game and more.

There are currently roughly 85 members of the club, and at one point were well over 100 strong.

Membership is $30 for the year for individuals and $60 for families.

At the celebration event, there will be live entertainment via “The Totally Not Electric Eels” — a band made up of club members. Pictures of past and present will be shown while the food and drinks flow. The event is free and designed for old friends and new friends to get together and socialize.

Scotty’s Bierworks is at 901 E. Industrial Circle in Cape Coral.

The Tony Rotino Center is at 5817 Driftwood Parkway in Cape Coral.

For more information on the club, visit www.diveclub.org.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj