Casino Beach Reef is the newest site in Escambia County which divers and snorkelers can access from Pensacola Beach. Construction of this reef was completed in 2020 by the Escambia County Marine Resources, in an effort to bolster local shore diving opportunities. Named in honor of the late Geographic Information Systems Director Charlie Gonzalez, the sites full name is Charles Fennel Gonzalez, IV, Casino Beach Reef. The site is roughly 1500 feet East of the Pensacola Fishing Pier and consists of 17 reef modules made of limestone, concrete, and fiberglass. The reef modules can stand as tall as six feet above the sand. The moderate swim from shore is well worth it as the structures sit at only about 8-15 feet of depth. Depending on wind and waves visibility is generally 10-30 feet when conditions are suitable for diving. The site is known for its radiant damsel fish, schooling grunts, and graceful butterfly fishes. Occasionally sea turtles and octopuses can be found relaxing near the reef modules, making this an excellent adventure for snorkelers and divers.
Locating the Reef
Diving this site involves a moderate swim but is very manageable on days with calm surf conditions. The site can be found by parking in the main Pensacola beach parking lot near the Crabs restaurant and walking out on to the beach. There are two guide signs facing the water on the dune behind Crabs (East of the Access Path). The Shoreward sign is a solid blue square, and the seaward sign is a solid yellow triangle. Divers and snorkelers can navigate to the reef by keeping the signs lined up during the swim out. The modules start about 650’-700′ from the shore. When you get close to the reef you may be able to hear the loud crackling sound caused by the resident pistol shrimp. Many diver will triangulate their position on the reef off of when the Beach ball water tower passes the tall brown Verandas Residency tower in addition to the guide signs.
Important Reef Info
- Florida law requires use of Divers Down Flag for diving or snorkeling and divers must make a reasonable effort to stay within 100′ of dive flag.
- No lifeguards on duty. Be aware of boat traffic, hazardous marine life, and potentially dangerous wave action and currents.
- Always dive with a buddy, NEVER ALONE!
- Personal flotation device or buoyancy aid strongly recommended for snorkelers.
- Snorkelers and Divers should adhere to beach warning flags.
- GREEN FLAG – Low hazard/Generally calm conditions.
- YELLOW FLAG – Medium hazard/Moderate surf and/or currents
- RED FLAG – High hazard/High Surf and/or strong currents
- PURPLE FLAG – Hazardous Marine Life (generally jellyfish or sea lice)
The best conditions for diving are when it is calm with little current (green flag). Plan your diving/snorkeling activities around when conditions warrant not just when you have the opportunity to go. Visibility is generally poor and currents are generally strong when there is medium to high wave action and makes the swim out and back much more challenging.