Blue Heron Bridge

Un caballito de mar esbelto naranja brillante se destaca entre hidroides y algas color púrpura.

Inesperado y lleno de sorpresas.

EL IMPLACABLE Y POTENTE FLUJO of the Gulf Stream’s clear, tropical waters provides Southeast Florida with beautiful and unique diving opportunities. Passing off the coast of Palm Beach County, the warmer, constantly flowing water nourishes and replenishes reefs and corals that support and attract an incredible diversity of marine life. The reefs offshore are easily accessible and often delight divers with beautiful blue water and visibility that can reach 100 feet.

Just inside Palm Beach Inlet lies an unexpected but wondrously pleasant surprise — the Blue Heron Bridge at Phil Foster Park. The Gulf Stream waters come in twice daily with the high tides, flowing through the inlet to the Intracoastal Waterway, transporting exotic and biodiverse marine life to settle in the shallow waters at Blue Heron Bridge. Recognized as one of the best shore and muck diving sites in the U.S., it’s also considered some of the best muck diving among divers and underwater photographers worldwide.

Don’t expect colorful reefs; prepare instead for a menagerie of unusual and exotic sea life you would typically have to travel the world to see. Every dive can be a surprise — you never know what’s lurking in the next high tide.

Phil Foster Park — better known as Blue Heron Bridge, the Bridge, or just BHB — is a small island inside the Lake Worth Lagoon just off the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s connected to the mainland by two bridges leading from Riviera Beach to Singer Island. There is convenient parking just off the beach, allowing divers to gear up on their tailgates and walk directly from the beach into the water. Divers share the park with beachgoers, who can fill the beach on nice days, so we arrive a couple of hours before high tide. A great dive community frequents BHB, so arriving early gives us time to socialize with fellow divers.

Buzos en el lado este del puente Blue Heron Bridge disfrutan de su buceo en la marea alta en el agua azul brillante.

Diving BHB is pleasantly straightforward and has something for just about everyone. Snorkelers, novice divers, freedivers, and experienced divers will appreciate the easy entry right off the beach and the shallow waters, which average around 15 feet with a maximum depth of 25 feet. It is a macro photographer’s dream, with an abundance and variety of underwater subjects.

The BHB area is a no-take zone for tropical fish collecting. Effective April 1, 2019, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a regulation to “prohibit the collection and possession of marine life fishery species (species collected for and managed for the tropical aquarium trade) within the park and surrounding waters.” For many years the local dive community unwaveringly championed the cause, working with the Palm Beach County Commission and FWC to successfully implement the policy change to protect this unique area for generations to come.

Un pez escorpión de arrecife extiende sus mandíbulas
en las algas, creando así una escena espeluznante.

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Este pez murciélago diablo tiene labios de un color rojo brillante
y una cara que solo una madre puede amar.

La iluminación sobre este gusano Bobbit en pleno alarde destaca sus colores como los del arcoíris.

Una hembra de pulpo del Caribe agarra y airea sus huevos con una atenta mirada. Mire detenidamente para ver a las crías de pulpo dentro de los huevos.

En 2012, la ciudad de Riviera Beach agregó una ruta de snorkel entre la playa y el canal marítimo, creando así un arrecife artificial paralelo a la playa y a 61 metros (200 pies) de la costa. Las actualizaciones a lo largo de los años incluyeron un agregado de 15 módulos de 2.268 kilogramos (5.000 libras) diseñados para parecer arrecifes naturales, tres estatuas de tiburones martillo de cemento de 680 kilogramos (1.500 libras) y algunos naufragios de barcos pequeños no planificados. El arrecife artificial actúa como un criadero para innumerables especies de peces jóvenes y es el hogar de pequeños bancos de peces roncadores, jureles amarillos y peces espada. Anguilas, blénidos y gobios anidan en las estructuras. Un mapa detallado expuesto en la playa proporciona una útil disposición del área de buceo y la ruta de snorkel.

Diving BHB revolves around slack high tide, which offers the calmest currents and best visibility. With the shallow depths, divers can expect a dive of up to two hours or more, depending on air consumption. If you enter the water an hour before high tide, you’ll miss the currents picking up and visibility dropping significantly about an hour past high tide. The dive is generally leisurely, but tidal currents can be strong outside the two-hour dive window, especially at the bridges. Visibility during slack high tide typically ranges from 20 to 40 feet but can be as low as a couple of feet or as high as 80 feet or more, depending on the conditions.

Nuestro plan de buceo normalmente comienza cerca de la playa fuera del área de natación, donde exploramos las aguas superficiales arenosas y herbosas y permitimos que las corrientes de marea disminuyan antes de acercarnos a uno de los puentes. Al principio puede parecer un simple buceo poco profundo nada interesante en suelos arenosos, pero el buzo que sea paciente y observador será recompensado con sorpresas.

Borrachos marmóreos exhiben sus personalidades mientras se asoman desde sus guaridas al jugar a las escondidas.

Las aguas poco profundas son el hogar de caballitos de mar, peces sapo y pulpos, muchos a una profundidad de 1,2 a 1,5 metros (4 a 5 pies) muy cerca de la playa. Peces golondrina y rubios se desplazan por el fondo, y un banco de grandes peces loro arcoíris frecuenta el área y se alimenta en la marea entrante. Anguilas de jardín juegan su juego de caja de sorpresas mientras los buzos se acercan y retroceden, y la presencia de chapines de lunares blancos y lijas es común en los pastos.

Peces sapo de muchos colores, formas y tamaños llegan a finales del invierno o principios de la primavera boreal. BHB es el hogar de peces sapo rayados, manchados y enanos, y ver media docena en un solo buceo no es inusual. Los buzos pacientes y hábiles pueden descubrir peces sapo enanos bien camuflados en el lecho marino. Un pez de los Sargazos es un deleite poco común que requiere controles frecuentes y un cuidadoso examen del sargazo entrante que flota en la superficie. Algunos buzos afortunados han sido testigos del ritual de desove de los peces sapo cuando la hembra libera sus huevos hacia la columna de agua y los machos nadan ansiosamente a través de la nube para fertilizarlos.

Lined and longsnout seahorses in various textures, colors, and patterns visit, but they are challenging to find at times — the frillier ones and juveniles blend perfectly with their grassy surroundings. Others hide in sponges matching their coloration. On a few occasions we’ve seen a bright red one standing out like a sore thumb, brazenly swimming through the sandy, grassy areas, tail clinging to seagrass as it slowly hunts for food, seemingly without a care in the world. They are often in mated pairs, and some divers have been fortunate to witness females passing their eggs to the male’s specialized brooding pouch or the male hatching babies into the water.

Octopuses become scarce over the winter, but in early spring Atlantic longarm, Caribbean reef, brown-striped, and common octopuses start to return in numbers. Octopuses seem to adjust to divers and are often out and about in the sand during the day. Sometimes they are playful, and it seems as if they are posing for the camera with some of their antics — changing colors and textures, grabbing shells to decorate their dens, and pouring like liquid into crevices and holes. Bottles and cans are favorite spots for them to make homes.

Every dive can be a surprise —
you never know what’s lurking in the next high tide.

More than 100 species of nudibranchs and sea slugs are at BHB, but most are tiny, unlike those in the Indo-Pacific. Divers with extreme patience, a keen eye, and knowledge of the habitat enjoy the search and successfully find these small creatures. Admittedly, we have yet to develop that skill, or maybe we don’t have the sharp eyesight required, so we rely on the assistance of more advanced nudibranch finders. Photographing them requires strong diopters. On the larger side, Florida regal sea goddesses occasionally find their way from offshore wrecks to BHB. We had a pleasant surprise this past fall with the arrival of a few Janolus flavoanulatus, which aren’t invasive, but they don’t belong here and typically live in the Western Indo-Pacific. Speculation is that they hitched a ride on a cargo ship. They disappeared a few weeks later, almost as abruptly as they arrived.

After spending time in the shallows off the beach, we head off to explore one of the bridges shortly before high tide. Covering the east- and west-side bridges in a single dive is too much. It’s more fun exploring a smaller area, so we pick one and save the other for another day. It’s incredible what you can find using a slow and steady approach. Urchins and starfish pepper the sandy, shelly areas leading to the east bridge, which are excellent places to stop and look for tiny sea life such as bumble bee shrimp. Decorator urchins pile on an amusing amount of junk to camouflage themselves. There are a few unusual critters such as tiger mantis shrimp, decorator crabs, bobbit worms, pipefish, and three species of batfish (polka-dot, shortnose, and roughback). Scorpionfish and stargazers lie entirely camouflaged on the bottom, stealthily awaiting their prey. Yellowhead and banded jawfish can be found in their burrows, sometimes with the male mouthbrooding eggs. Caribbean reef squid and grass squid are occasionally in the water column. Under the east bridge is home to lobsters, green and spotted moray eels, cardinalfish, and seahorses.

Un tubícola afilado macho presume su garganta y aleta dorsal para impresionar y atraer a las hembras que estén cerca.

A female Caribbean reef octopus selected the east bridge to raise her eggs early this year, making her final home in an 8-inch abandoned pipe about 3 feet off the sand. Seeking safety and privacy, she attached her clutch of eggs to the pipe’s walls about a foot back from the opening, her arms in constant motion aerating and cleaning the eggs. After the first sighting early in March, she stayed in her den for the next six weeks until her eggs hatched. She was gone about a week after the eggs hatched. It was extraordinary and humbling to check on her and watch the babies’ development. The cycle of life continues, and it was wonderful to share in it.

El puente del oeste cruza el canal marítimo principal y es mucho más alto para permitir el paso de embarcaciones grandes. El área de buceo es el hogar de gran parte de la misma vida marina que el lado este. Grandes peces ángel grises, franceses y reina y bancos de peces espada nadan debajo de la arcada. Coloridas esponjas cubren los grandes pilotes que sostienen el puente y son hábitats para cangrejos flecha, camarones limpiadores bandeados y blénidos. Una loma de arena cubierta de pastos marinos justo al sur de la arcada es el hogar de babosas de mar, coloridos cangrejos ermitaños y tubícolas afilados. El buceo es divertido en ambos puentes, con muchas similitudes respecto a la vida marina, pero la acción puede cambiar con el tiempo de uno al otro.

En BHB normalmente hacemos fotografía macro, pero en ocasiones hay vida marina más grande que pasa por allí. Puede ser una verdadera sorpresa cuando tu cara está cerca del fondo mientras buscas criaturas diminutas y luego, al mirar hacia arriba, quedas cara a cara con un mero guasa. Si bien son dóciles, ver un pez del tamaño de un automóvil pequeño debajo del puente aún puede sorprenderte bastante. Las rayas jaspeadas son relativamente comunes, y cazan con las mareas en grupos de dos a cuatro. Los manatíes a veces buscan aguas más cálidas en los meses del invierno boreal, los tiburones nodriza no son poco comunes y los buzos ocasionalmente pueden ver alguna tortuga.

Los buceos nocturnos en BHB también son una excelente oportunidad para encontrar vida marina que habitualmente se oculta durante el día. El parque cierra al atardecer, pero las tiendas de buceo locales realizan buceos nocturnos dos veces al mes. Se necesita un pase especial, que puede obtenerse sin cargo en la tienda de buceo local que organice el buceo nocturno.

We’ve been residents of Palm Beach County since 2020 and retired here in part because of the variety of dive opportunities. We love Blue Heron Bridge and dive here as often as possible when the conditions are good and the tides cooperate. We dive year-round with water temperatures ranging from 72°F to 86°F. Its variety, never-ending surprises of exotic marine life, fantastic dive community, incredible photographic opportunities, and ease of access make it a dive site that’s hard to beat anywhere in the world. AD


Descubra mucho más de lo que Blue Heron Bridge tiene para ofrecer en una galería de fotos complementaria y estos videos.

© Alert Diver — Q3 2022

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