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Many would consider the title an oxymoron. How could an area consisting of muddy sediment with poor visibility and, at times, a good collection of discarded trash be considered a marvelous place? Well, if you’ve never had the opportunity to dive such a place, hopefully this adventure will sway you to reconsider such a dive.

For the few, well-traveled, adventurous divers who have explored these areas, the word “Muck” conjures the thought of resplendent colors and alien life forms few have ever seen. Some of the more famous muck sites around the world have been well documented by avid underwater photographers and cinematographers. Places like Sipadan, Lembeh Strait and Borneo, among others, along the Indo-Pacific, attract divers from thousands of miles, and for millions of dollars.

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Male seahorse giving birth in the wild

Our attraction to discover such a place was fueled by our fascination to explore a side of nature we had not seen before. Drawn by tales of unique, and almost mystical, creatures we set out to chance upon this unique place. Inspired by our adamant belief that we do not need to travel half way across the world to find some of the ocean’s most prized creatures, we set out to find such a place in Florida.

It wasn’t long before we discovered such a place, and with camera and scuba tanks in-hand, Fritz and I went off to explore this unearthly place. Who would have believed this place was nothing more than a simple beach dive? Even after ten years of exploring the reefs along the Florida coast, we could never have imagined all that abounds so close to home.

As suggested by my diving friends, I checked the tide charts a few days before (reason being that the only time to sanely enter the water, in this area without risk of being carried away into the middle of the ocean, was during a slack tide). All suited up and ready to go, Fritz and I meandered into deeper water. As our tide tables predicted, the incoming tide was on the last minutes of its journey. We took advantage of this gentle current to slowly carry us to one of the prime dive spots.

Absent any reef, here were man-made structures and discards that seemed to attract creatures to this uncharted place. My eyes quickly recognized a few denizens of the coral reef world – a juvenile highhat, tons of fireworms and even a juvenile scorpionfish. This place was a living nursery of reef creatures.

The next obvious place to check for any signs of life was around the legions of human trash – items such as discarded traps, glass bottles and even clay pots, revealed what I suspected: even more fascinating creatures. Inside an aluminum can, half buried in the muck, was an octopus who curled itself, as a means of protection, from the approaching diver and his underwater camera.

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Many sea creatures such as this common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) will take refuge in any discarded trash.

Many of the glass bottles even contained their own mingled measure of marine life. A seaweed blenny peered out of its green glass home, long enough to see me approach, before making a tail-first dive back in. As Edward Abbey often remarked, “There are no vacant lots in nature,” and this Marvelous Muck was quickly becoming the epitome of his statement.

Fritz had his share of amazing encounters, which he shared with me. One of the more intriguing was an odd-looking creature that neither of us had seen before. It was a bandtail sea robin using a pair of finger-like appendages, which emanated from its modified pectoral fins, to walk and shuffle the muck in search of food.

With the tide receding and our visibility quickly dropping, like two kids in a swimming pool, we hesitantly called it a day for this magnificent dive. Our drive back home was filled with recollections of our observations, and with a growing enthusiasm for a repeat visit.

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These male lancer dragonet fish, no bigger than two inches, put on a territorial display, blushing in bright colors and extending their fins.

Many months and many visits later, we undertake every opportunity to explore this place we call the Marvelous Muck. Throughout our visits we have made many new and exciting discoveries: from the seldom seen seahorse and its close cousin, the pipefish, to creatures like the long brisile eunice, which seems to have been designed for some Hollywood horror movie. Little could we imagine the diversity of life that we would find within a few footsteps from the beach.

This captivating place has enlightened us to see the world around us from a different perspective. Edward Abbey also once said, “In order to see that which is not readily apparent, we must break old habits and learn to see anew.” Through patience, perseverance and an endless appetite for nature’s wonders, we continue to discover this miniature world full of creatures one would expect to find on another planet. Luckily for us, this marvelous place is right under our toes.