Life Under Foot
Soft corals grow to within inches of the planks.
Blue Heron Bridge, Florida
It might not be a jetty in the strictest sense (though it is used to tie up boats), but Florida’s best shore dive is one of those can’t-wait-to-get-under experiences rendered all the more surprising by its incongruous topside surrounds — a rushing overpass, South Florida’s ubiquitous looming condoscape and even a power plant off in the distance. Once you’re submerged at the Blue Heron Bridge, an intoxicating universe of critters is the only view worth considering.
The area surrounding the bridge is constantly fed and renewed by the flow of nutrients sloshing in from the Atlantic, which has brought in an explosion of life that calls this stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway between Palm Beach and Singer Island home. The Little Blue Heron Bridge, the bridge’s easternmost stretch, is under construction until late 2011, so you can’t get under it for now. But divers can still scope the south side for a chance to see striated and hairy frogfishes and longsnout seahorses that are in abundance. Another prime spot for seeing frogfish is along the mooring ball lines of sailboats that have been berthed near the small beach.
As you float over the rubble bottom, look for sea robins and red-lipped batfish. Bristle worms, urchins and pincushion starfish abound. And it’s worth training your macro vision for surprises like bumblebee shrimp, sometimes spotted going for a starfish stroll. A rustle in the sand could be anything: a peacock flounder, perhaps, or a spooked razorfish. Octopuses are omnipresent, but you have to know where to look — they are often seen in discarded bottles that have escaped divers’ cleanup efforts.
On the main stretch of the eastern Blue Heron Bridge, wooden fenders appear to have been painted by a crayon-crazed kid with a penchant for clashing colors — orange soft corals and sponges and purple barrel sponges carpet the scene. Seaweed blennies peek curiously from their barrel burrows, while off in the deeper water, Bermuda chubs school. You’ll probably see hogfish and stoplight parrotfish here too at depths that don’t pass 16 feet (the rest of the dive barely dips below the 10-foot mark). It’s loads of bottom time for observing curious behaviors that often get lost in the larger dive fray. — Terry Ward
Make It Happen
Grab a parking spot at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach on the north side of the bridge, and plan your dive for the two-hour window either side of high tide. Make a day of it by heading out on a charter with Walker’s Dive Charters (www.walkersdivecharters.com), and you’ll get to dive one of the thriving nearby reefs or wrecks while waiting for the bridge’s tidal window (a two-tank dive costs $70 per person). Water temperatures range from the mid-80s in the summer months to the 70s and 60s in the winter, and visibility is usually between 50 and 80 feet (though up to 100 feet is possible).