Blue Heron Bridge (BHB) is a popular shore diving site located in West Palm Beach, Florida, just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the REEF Campus in Key Largo. Voted one of the top dive sites in the world by Sport Diver in 2013, this area is well-known among divers for its abundance of unusual and interesting marine life. Because of the tidal currents in the area, one can only dive BHB at slack high tide when there is minimal current.
In late October, REEF interns Andrew, Maya, Kate, and I decided to visit Blue Heron Bridge to see how many unique species we could find. The timing of high tide made it possible for us to do a night dive on a Saturday evening and an early morning dive the following day. BHB is located in Phil Foster Park and special parking permits are required to be there after dark. Pura Vida Divers, a REEF Conservation Partner, is one of the dive shops in the area that can provide these permits to divers. The sun began to set as we arrived at the bridge, and the giant support pillars glowed orange as they cast long shadows over the water. It was the weekend before Halloween, and other divers decided to wear costumes for their dive. There were cats, fishes, and a woman disguised as a pink dinosaur. We donned our dive gear and waited in the shallows for the current to slow down enough to start our dive.
As the last beams of light shined through the surrounding buildings, the current slowed down. We switched our torches on and descended into the darkness. We arrived at a mighty depth of 10 feet and meandered slowly through the pillars, taking shelter behind each one as the current was still shifting. It did not take long for us to run into the night’s first attraction. A small, yellow-spotted head protruded out of the dark gray sand. Digging my hand in the sand to hold myself in place against the current, I was able to take a closer look. It was a Sharptail Eel! This was a quite peculiar find as I had only seen this eel free swimming along the bottom, but never completely buried. Trying to take a photo proved challenging, as every inch that I moved forward, the eel would inch its way back in the sand. It was almost like a dance between the eel and me, swaying back and forth. As the current died down we moved closer to the fishing pier on the far right side of the park. I had seen a Flying Gurnard in this area on previous dives and wondered if it might still be there. Instead we stumbled upon three species of Scorpionfish, including the common Whitespotted Scorpionfish, a few Plumed Scorpionfish, and my favorite of the night, a Mushroom Scorpionfish. Mushroom Scorpionfish are quite small, only about three inches long. They are named for the mushroom-shaped growths that extend downwards on their eyes. As I started swimming away, something very small moved in front of me. The tiniest Shortnose Batfish was making its way along the bottom. It was little enough to fit in the palm of a hand. After an amazing 120-minute dive, we surfaced and called it a night.
Early the next morning, we returned to the bridge. The sun peeked in between the buildings that surrounded the park. Excited for another dive, we took a different route and checked out the artificial coral bommies on the outer edge of the park. Visibility was about 20 feet and sun rays filtered through the water, illuminating the burrows of Orange-spotted Gobies and their snapping shrimps. We saw many juvenile grunts and snappers, young angelfish, and drums hiding in the cracks. Massive Hairy Blennies stood guard near the tops of the structures while the Arrow Crabs minded their business. We stumbled upon some Sergeant Majors, who ferociously protected their bright purple egg patches. A Green Turtle leisurely passed by and checked us out. As the current started to picked up again visibility dropped to several feet. The blue water turned dark green as particles of algae and sand began rushing by. While inspecting one last spot, I saw a striking color change of a Common Octopus hiding inside an old pipe. Changing from deep reds to pale whites, the octopus curiously extended its tentacles toward my camera as I took my final shots.
After stuffing our wet dive gear in the back of our car, we drove back to Key Largo; not saying “goodbye” to this incredible dive, but saying “see you later.” Since starting my internship at REEF, BHB has been one of my favorite dive sites in Florida and overall. I recommend this site to every diver and experience level. This is a great place to see some of the ocean’s more obscure species without having to travel to remote locations. I look forward to our next visit to the bridge and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.
Want to see what weird and interesting things REEF surveyors have reported at Blue Heron Bridge? You can check out the database report here.