Daddy JawfishA male jawfish incubating eggs under the Blue Heron Bridge.
SeahorseA seahorse hides in seagrass under the Blue Heron Bridge.
BatfishBatfish are one of the favorite finds in the muck under the bridge.
Bridge OctopusAn octopus looks out from its home under the Blue Heron Bridge.
The Blue Heron BridgeLocated in Riviera Beach, Florida, the Blue Heron Bridge has some of North America's best muck diving below it.
Blue Heron Bridge
My dive buddy and I walked into the water under the Blue Heron Bridge and went into about five feet. With our fins on, we descended (or more like put our heads underwater) and started swimming along the sandy bottom dotted with seagrass.
Moments later, I heard my buddy rap his tank, and I swam over to see what he was photographing – a seahorse! Not five minutes underwater, and probably less than 100ft from where we parked the car, we found one of the Holy Grail ocean critters that some divers wait years to see.
He was taking photos while I was swimming in a larger circle around him, looking to see if anything else was around. Within minutes, I’d spotted a deep purple mantis shrimp eyeing me from its hold in the sand. Within an arm’s reach was a pile of rocks that had two colorful blennies perched on the top, almost as if they were beckoning me to take their photo. I looked at my dive computer; we’d been underwater seven minutes and were at eight feet, and I was already thrilled with the dive.
Really? Diving Under a Bridge?
Dive instructors originally started diving under the Blue Heron Bridge because it was a great place to take students when the weather was rough. The calm, shallow water made for a great place to practice diving skills and teach new divers (and still is a popular place for dive training). Who would have thought they’d find a congregation of the most sought out after marine critters underneath the bridge too?
Having become very popular in recent years because of magazine articles and numerous amazing photographs from professional photographers, the dive site is a busy place. It’s hard not to want to dive under the bridge when someone brings back photos of shortnose batfish, jawfish with eggs in their mouths, stargazers, seahorses, and octopus, all from one dive!
How to Dive the Bridge
Even beyond the treasure of critters under the bridge – it’s an easy dive. Just minutes off major highway I-75 that runs along the Atlantic coast of Florida, Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach hosts the entrance to the dive site. The park itself is a cool place to hang out with lots of picnic tables and grassy areas to set up gear and a white sand beach to sunbath on. After the dive, there are showers and hoses to rinse off and clean gear at. Even better – it’s free and there’s plenty of free parking.
Divers walk in off the beach and the water gets gradually deeper, although most of the dive occurs in 6-16ft. There is great diving to the east and the west of the entry, and most divers choose one direction to spend a dive.
Swimming towards the east takes divers under the east bridge, where concrete pilings are covered in sponge and coral life, and in the shallows of the pilings are stingrays, flying gurnards, and octopus. When heading to the west, divers can find schools of spadefish and usually barracuda in the water column.
In the sand, batfish walk around and sharp tail eels slither across the sand. Continuing west will take divers to the boat channel, which should be avoided because it can be very busy.
Night dives under the bridge are also fantastic when many animals come out to hunt, however a special permit is needed to be in the park after dark, and most local dive shops plan night dives several times a month.
Recently, a snorkel trail across a 2-acre area was created from limestone boulders and reef modules to build an artificial reef. These structures sitting in 6-10ft are becoming more and more populated with juvenile fish of many species, blennies, and other fish. It’s a great area to check out on scuba or while snorkeling.
When to Dive
Be aware that the bridge can only be dived at certain times each day. The best time to dive is during one hour before and one hour after high tide. As the tide moves in, it brings clear, clean water, allowing for the best visibility and less current at the high tide. Tidal changes can create very strong currents.
When the tide goes out, silty and murky water with sediment from the inter-coastal waterway moves under the bridge making visibility very poor. Currents will be strongest during the tidal changes surrounding the full and new moons.
The secret is out about how great diving the Blue Heron Bridge is which means it can be busy, especially on weekends and holidays. Arrive early to get a good parking and picnic table spot.
During the dive, be careful not to kick up sand with your fins and practice good buoyancy, which can be more difficult in the shallow water. Also be courteous to your fellow divers.
I had three amazing days at the Blue Heron Bridge, spending almost two hours underwater in each dive. With hundreds of photos and many critters checked off my list, all I wanted was to stay for another week and keep diving! It’s exciting to hunt for critters and be able to find so many. Locals talk about how they’ve dived the bridge hundreds of times and still find new things. Each dive is a new treasure hunt.
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