Destination reviews

Scuba Dive Training worldwide with Pete Bucknell

Blue Heron Bridge

One of the best shore dives in the United States
Article and photos by DR. Michael Rothschild

Bridge over bubbled water

The Blue Heron Bridge connects Singer Island with the town of West Palm Beach. Just like Ponquogue, it spans an active boat channel - the Lake Worth Lagoon - that separates the barrier island from the mainland. The lagoon fills from and empties into the ocean twice a day as the tides push water in and out of the Palm Beach inlet.

Access to diving at the Blue Heron Bridge is extremely convenient. Unlike Ponquogue, there is a beautiful little park on an island in the middle of the lagoon - Phil Foster Park, maintained by Palm Beach County. Plenty of parking is available right next to the beach on the south side of the island, with fresh water showers and a nearby bathroom and water fountain.
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Pete at the east end

Pete at the west end

The eastern end is under the portion of the bridge that is very close to the water; at high slack tide there is only a foot or so between the surface and the roadbed. This makes it more protected from boat traffic, but you need to walk about a hundred yards along the beach and enter by the rocky shore. The western end is under the portion of the bridge that begins to rise higher above the water to clear the ship channel. This is closer to the parking area, and more ambient light filters down along the bridge pilings than on the eastern end that is in the nearby bridge’s shadow. This makes for some beautiful cathedral lighting, depending on the time of day.


There are two diveable areas, off the western and eastern ends of the island, just a few hundred yards apart. In addition, there is a protected swimming area off the beach on the south side, complete with a very official looking Baywatch-style lifeguard tower, There is a snorkeling “trail” in shallow water here, but divers are asked to avoid this area when entering and exiting.


Pete and I rented tanks from the Force-E dive shop, conveniently located just west of the bridge. They also supplied us with a float to tow, which is absolutely required when diving around this active ship channel. Since it’s hard to shoot video while towing the float, I volunteered to wrangle it so that Pete’s footage would be smoother. But I realized that it can be quite difficult to maneuver a heavy camera housing with strobes and to hold onto the float line as well. I soon learned to tie it off to a piece of debris on the bottom and stay in that area, moving it as necessary.


As with most of this type of shore diving, you need to hit the water at high slack tide to avoid the ripping current that happens at other times as the lagoon empties into or fills from the ocean. High slack is better than low slack, because you are diving in clear ocean water that is running west through the inlet, rather than the cloudier lagoon water with its West Palm Beach runoff that empties into the ocean just before the low tide. Access to the park is limited to the hours between sunrise and sunset, so generally you only get to dive one of the two daily high slacks. However, night diving is possible if you access the bridge from a boat. You can also do a night dive with a dive shop that has a permit for after-hours access, but they typically only run these dives once a month. Before planning a trip, be sure to check the tide tables, especially if you are trying to include an ocean dive before or after you hit the bridge.
We made the decision to wear our dry suits, which was a good one in retrospect. I did need a bit more weight than I usually use for single tank diving, but given that these were long dives in water in the mid-70s, I was happy to stay warm and dry. Gloves are a must, especially when moving over rocks, bridge pilings and other debris in heavy current. We geared up in the parking lot, and entered the water about an hour before high slack each day. This meant a bit of a struggle in the early part of the dive, but I could usually find shelter in the lee of some structure until the current tapered off. Each dive was about an hour and a half, mostly limited by our need to get back on the road to meet our dive boat in Pompano for our afternoon ocean dives.


The marine life in this area is spectacular, and all in very shallow water (10-15 feet on the west side of the island, 15-20 on the east side). In addition to the amazing variety of small fish and other animals for macro work, there were also plenty of lobsters, barracuda, parrotfish, hogfish, and huge schools of Atlantic spadefish cruising between the pilings. I could dive there every day and always find something new. Pete’s video shows the site better than anything I could describe, I’m very lucky to dive with such a talented videographer to document our adventures. Good on ya, buddy!

Finally, I must tell you that this was a very efficient trip in terms of time and cost. While a longer trip would have certainly dropped our price per dive, for me the limiting factor is usually time away from home. There are lots of flights to West Palm Beach from NYC, so we were able to leave on Friday after work, on a direct flight that cost less than $250. We were able to do six great dives, and I only had to take off one day from work, heading home monday night, to allow for sufficient time before flying. We probably could have gotten a better deal on housing (and we will, next time). The bridge dives only cost us the price of an air tank rental, so I can definitely recommend this trip for any level of diver.