A popular television show for scuba divers is asking to film an episode off Palm Beach County’s coastline, and local tourism leaders are hoping to use the exposure to market the area as a vacation destination for marine enthusiasts.
ScubaNation, a television show about recreational scuba diving that airs on Fox Sports Sun, hopes to tape an episode in Palm Beach County next year. The weekly show reaches roughly 6 million households around the world, and each episode is viewed by about 200,000 dive enthusiasts, officials said.
In an effort to capitalize on potential show, and its international following, local tourism leaders have teamed and have offered to organize an underwater photo contest designed to entice divers and their families to visit the area’s beaches and underwater reefs.
They’re working on the details but hope to turn the contest into an annual event. They plan to promote the contest on ScubaNation.
Palm Beach County officials have spent nearly three decades trying to position the area as a leading dive destination.
Since 1987, the county’s department of environmental resources management has worked to create a series of artificial reefs along the county’s coastline. More than 45 vessels, 82,000 tons of concrete, and 130,000 tons of limestone boulders have been used to create artificial reefs in the county’s nearshore and offshore waters, according to the department’s website.
Shark diver Jim Abernethy, who is working with local tourism leaders to promote the photo contest, said the waters off Palm Beach County’s coast are known for their large variety of marine life. Palm Beach County also offers some of the best underwater photography spots in the country because of its proximity to the Gulf Stream, he added.
“We have the clearest water on any given day in all of America,” said Abernethy, who runs Lake Park-based Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures. “The diversity and abundance of abundance of marine life in Palm Beach County is off the scale.”
Roughly 3.8 percent of the 6.9 million visitors who traveled to Palm Beach County last year said they participated in diving and snorkeling activities while they were here, according to Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s tourism marketing agency.
Local tourism leaders said the underwater photography contest could help boost the number of divers who travel here. They pointed to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea’s annual BugFest event to kick off lobster mini-season. The event, now in its fifth year, drew 300 participants in 2015, up from 100 its first year. The festival also features an underwater photography contest.
“We need to develop more of the dive market,” said Rick Netzel, director of sales and marketing at the Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn in West Palm Beach. “This is about Palm Beach County and getting good exposure.”
Netzel helped organize a meeting of tourism leaders this month to discuss the Palm Beach County-based photo contest. The meeting was attended by officials from ScubaNation and local tourism agencies, including the county’s Film and Television Commission and Discover The Palm Beaches.
Billy Catoggio, the president and co-host at ScubaNation, said the effort could provide an economic boost for the region, especially during the tourism industry’s slower off-seasons.
“This is a very good beginning to something that can be big,” Catoggio said. Divers “do two things after they scuba dive. They eat and they drink. They also need to sleep somewhere.”
Tourism leaders said they planned to work with local dive shops and area hotels to provide discounts and packages for those who want to participate.