Look at any recent underwater photo competition and you are likely to find at least one image taken under Florida’s Blue Heron Bridge (BHB). The tidal flow through a nearby inlet has created a terrific site for macro photography at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. I recently had the opportunity to dive the BHB for the first time, as well as drift dive the nearby reefs of south Florida. While I don’t know if I came back with an award-winning image, I did get some nice shots and had a great time.
The Blue Heron Bridge
The BHB crosses the estuary in an east/west direction and connects mainland Florida to Singer Island. Phil Foster Park is located at the northeast end of the bridge, and its Rivera Beach is the starting point for the dive. Divers can park very close and gear up on nearby picnic tables or in the grass.
There are several great websites that give further dive site descriptions. They are easy to find- just Google “Blue Heron Bridge” to find them. Parking is very convenient, and the dive is free!
Things To Know About BHB Diving
Diving can only be done around high tide, as the incoming water slackens, stops, and begins to ebb. Check online tide charts or call a local shop for these times. Diving is available up to an hour before or after high tide, depending upon your tolerance for current. The afternoon high tides have a longer window, making a dive time of 90 minutes-plus possible, where as early morning high tides last longer but bring better visibility. Tide patterns will likely only allow one dive per day, and night dives are by permit only.
Surface markers are required at BHB. Rent one at a local shop and attach an extra weight to the reel. Then lay it on the sand nearby as you shoot- use good buoyancy control to avoid lowering the viz. Beware: there will be many other divers and several open water classes on weekends and holidays- just you and your closest 100 dive buddies!
- When most people think of the BHB, they think macro. Subjects include blennies, crabs, sea stars, stargazers, sea horses, and much more. Look for subjects both in the sand and among the bridge pilings. There is also an area of sea grass as you approach the boat channel. This is a great place to try out that homemade snoot or a close-up diopter. Check out Keri Wilk’s definitive article on shooting with a snoot and his great images from the BHB.
Some wide-angle opportunities exist, as well. The shallow depth and particles in the water can provide great sunbeams, especially against the shadow of the fishing pier. Expect to see typical Caribbean reef fish, including occasional rays. A school of cownose rays made an appearance on the final day of my trip, but I was forced to admire them from dry land!
- If you find yourself moving in the current as the tide picks up, try using continuous autofocus to track your subject. Some locals use a long, thin “reefstick” to stay in place. When attached to a BCD, a reefstick can act as an anchor against the tidal currents. You can find one at the local dive shop.
South Florida Reef Diving
There are quite a few dive sites and operators in the south Florida area, from Fort Lauderdale through the Palm Beaches and north to Jupiter. The Gulf Stream comes in very close to land here, and the main photo attractions are large- mostly turtles and sharks. You can expect to see several of both on every dive. Our boat diving day on the reefs contained numerous sightings of nurse, reef, bull, and hammerhead sharks, although they didn’t all come in close to pose! We also saw numerous green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles during each dive. They were somewhat more willing subjects.
- The currents can be strong here, and all of the boat diving is drift diving. This is both a draw for big animals as well as a turn-off for photographers. The currents bring in some bigger animals, but can make composition difficult. Bottom times can be limited by depth (often in the 60-90 ft. range).
- Dive nitrox and rent large tanks to extend your bottom time. The dives have a flat profile, so divers should be comfortable ascending without a line and making safety stops in open water.
- Look for an operator willing to drop small groups separately. There will likely by spear fishermen, photographers, and regular divers on the same boat. Dropping separately can allow you to have your own, private dive at your own pace. The captain will place the boat in the right spot and will want divers to enter the water quickly. Try sitting down on the dive platform and sliding off into the water with your gear (instead of giant striding with a huge camera rig!). Check with the divemaster beforehand.
- It’s always good practice to carry a safety sausage. Once on the surface inflate the sausage and the boat will come pick you up. You won’t need to tow it during the dive (a la Cozumel).
Now that I’ve experienced diving the south Florida area, I’m looking forward to returning and capturing even better images. I hope this article encourages you to do the same!
When he's not diving, Jeremy Kozman teaches middle and high school instrumental music in Hilliard, Ohio. In addition to the Divephotoguide.com contest, his images have recently won awards in the 2010 Our World Underwater and the 2010 Beneath the Seas competitions. View more of Jeremy's underwater photography at jmkphotography.com.