>You may hear the site referred to as the Blue Heron Bridge, BHB or Phil Foster Park, but most local divers simply call it "the bridge." This place, located in Riviera Beach, Fla., has become well known for the wide diversity of unique macro photo subjects that thrive in its waters, though one doesn't need to be a photographer to enjoy it. It is not unusual to see open-water dive classes here alongside a cadre of dedicated underwater photographers.
>Listing all of the creatures found at BHB would take all day, but commonly seen marine life includes three types of octopus (even during the day), mantis shrimp, starfish and many types of crabs, including box crabs, neck crabs and several varieties of hermit crab. While not actually a crab, the extremely weird and cool horseshoe crab is a "living fossil"; these are easily seen at the BHB by keeping an eye on the sandy areas.
>In 2012 Palm Beach County installed what is now referred to as the snorkel trail — an 800-foot-long collection of rock and concrete designed as an artificial reef. The snorkel trail has already begun to attract growth, and it's definitely worth a visit. It runs east to west parallel to and about 150 feet south of the beach. For divers it's not only a good place to see fish and other creatures, it also serves as a handy waypoint for navigation. It is generally advisable not to venture to the south of the snorkel trail as that would put you too close to an active boat channel.
>Pura Vida Divers offers guided dives with top-notch local guides, something that is highly recommended for BHB first-timers. Reef Photo and Video operates photography classes at BHB several times a year for people wanting to improve their underwater photography or videography skills. (The author is one of the instructors of these classes).
>How To Dive It
>Dives need to be properly timed with the currents. A rule of thumb that works pretty well is to enter the water about 45 minutes to an hour before high tide, which occurs twice a day. The current will be running north at that time. The slack current will happen about a half hour after the high tide, and that typically represents the best visibility and least amount of current. Shortly after slack, the current will begin to move to the south, and the visibility will then begin to deteriorate.
>While the current can be zippy, there is a lot of available structure to hide behind. Good spots for finding an eddy include the bridge pilings, the wrecks and the snorkel trail.
>The depth here averages only about 15 feet, so while a typical dive day here involves only one dive, it may be a two-hour affair or even longer. There is boat traffic in the area, so divers need to know where the boat channels are. Also be aware that Florida has a state law governing the display of dive flags or buoys and the responsibility of boat traffic in the area.
>Conditions: While there is a seasonal aspect to the diving, BHB is actually very good year round. The site is so well protected that it's diveable even when conditions offshore are far too rough for diving. The water temperature in the summer gets up into the mid-80s°F and can dip down to around 70°F in winter.
>The visibility changes every day, but it's typically 30 to 60 feet. Occasionally it will reach 100 feet, but it can also drop down into the single digits. The visibility tends to be worse after a heavy rain or when the engineers at Lake Okeechobee decide to draw down the lake level.
>Parking can be hard to find on summer weekends, but generally weekdays are much less crowded. The park is not open 24 hours a day, so make sure you plan your dive so you can exit the park prior to closing time. Night dives are possible — inquire at the dive shop about getting a permit for night diving.
>On the Surface: From alligator wrestling to beautiful beaches to Miami's South Beach nightlife, South Florida is teeming with things to see and do. If you want to stay close to the bridge, check out the scene in West Palm Beach's Clematis Street and waterfront areas.
>In 1961 U.S. Navy Seabees constructed an underground bunker for President John F. Kennedy on Peanut Island, located just across the channel from the Blue Heron Bridge. Today you can tour the bunker and see where the president may have been evacuated had the Cuban Missile Crisis turned out differently. If snorkeling, swimming, hiking or camping is more your thing, the rest of Peanut Island Park is a calm little oasis in the middle of the busy Port of Lake Worth.
>© Alert Diver — Q1 Winter 2015