The Best Time to Dive in The Palm Beaches

May 2, 2019

The Palm Beaches serve as a one-of-a-kind diving destination, home to both natural and artificial reefs.

Natural reefs compose the northernmost stretch of the Florida Reef Tract, the third largest living barrier reef in the world. The Palm Beach stretch is remarkable, with its base composed of limestone creating a habitat for quirky bottom-dwelling critters. Local reef residents include flowery hydra-corals, hairy gorgonians, crimson sponge communities over the rocks. With proximity to the Gulf Stream, the area welcomes large pelagic fish from the deep waters. Palm Beach County provides over 150 artificial reefs created by sunken vessels, limestone, concrete and even luxury vehicles.
 
If you aren’t SCUBA certified, then take a certification vacation. Most local dive shops offer a weekend certification course intended for visitors. I visited The Palm Beaches in May 2015 to get my Advanced Open Water Certification and loved the underwater world so much that I became a local! Whether you’re a master diver or a bubble watcher, The Palm Beaches have an underwater wonder for anyone willing to take the plunge. Here I’ve rounded up 6 ways to dive The Palm Beaches.

Explore the Surface at Red Reef Park, Boca Raton

If you aren’t SCUBA certified or you’re acclimating after a flight, Red Reef Park is an easy snorkel spot just off the beach. It’s best enjoyed during high tide and is monitored by lifeguards, making it a great location for beginners and children. Its iconic color is due to being covered in red-orange encrusting sponges. Get up close with your goggles and spot brittle starfish as tiny as thumbprints living on the sponges. Although this is a shallow site, prepare yourself to be thrilled, as barracuda are known to streak through this area.

Go with the Flow at Double Ledges, Palm Beach

Drift dives are plentiful in The Palm Beaches due to the swift ocean current. If you’re typically an air hog, you can relax with minimal swimming at most local dive sites, making it the ultimate destination for a lazy diver. Double Ledges is a favorite drift dive just off the north end of Palm Beach Island. This site typically has stellar visibility despite the fast-moving current. It’s a great location for “bug hunting” during spiny lobster season, August 6-March 31.

Explore the Shore at Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach

This shore dive has been boasted as one of the top dive sites in the world and a premier location for marine biologists to photograph exotic critters. This artificial reef has amazing access just steps from the parking lot at Phil Foster Park. With a dive shop right at the location, it makes it easy to gather gear or enlist a dive guide.
 
Expect to spot seahorses with their tails wrapped around the grates of sunken shopping carts. My favorite critter among the Blue Heron Bridge aquatic aliens are nudibranchs. These creatures are flamboyantly colored and often frilled miniature mollusks that cling onto rocks and coral. Searching for nudibranchs is reminiscent of an underwater Easter egg hunt. The most bizarre bridge resident is the Southern Stargazer. This rare fish has venomous spines along its back and has the ability to electrically shock its prey with the zing of 50 volts.
 

sea turtle surrounded by fish. Photo by Mike Scott

Drift the Wreck Trek, Jupiter

A mile north of Jupiter Inlet lies three wrecks for an epic drift dive north. The first of the sunken splendors is the Zion Train, a 164-foot Dutch cargo ship with a cursed course when five of its crew were killed by pirates in 1997. The ship ran aground just 3 months after the bloodshed and was scuttled in 2003. Hurricanes have ripped open the Zion Train, allowing divers great viewing access of its interior.
 
The second wreck is the Miss Jenny, a 55-foot dredge barge that was sunk upside-down. The final wreck is the largest, ESSO Bonaire, a 147-foot oil tanker from Honduras that was seized by U.S. Customs transporting 55,000 pounds of marijuana. It was sunk in 1989 over a stubborn 9 hours to get this massive tanker to submerge.
 
Although square grouper can no longer be found aboard the ESSO Bonaire, Goliath Grouper are known to aggregate here August-October during mating season. These giants can clock in up to 700 pounds, and if they are not first seen, they can be heard by their distinctive bark. Jupiter Dive Center can help you start the certification process or help plan your next diving adventure.

Dive Deep at The Bluffs, Jupiter

The Bluffs is considered to be Palm Beach County’s most gorgeous reef. The top of the ledge sits at 65 feet with white sand breaking up the reef, creating what divers have called cul-de-sacs of coral communities and entrenched tropical fish. You can see Queen and Blue Angelfish, along with their hybrid, the Townsend Angelfish, gliding in the tiny reef ribbons.
 
Take the plunge to the bottom of the ledge, which reaches a depth of 90 feet. This spot approaches the Florida Straits, a highway for big fish soaring past the reef. During my dive at The Bluffs, I swam next to an 800-pound friendly leatherback sea turtle. This is a rare encounter which can exhilarate the diver that has “seen it all.”

Descend After Dark at Bonnie’s, Jupiter

If you prefer to get your bottom time in a night dive, it’s likely that you are a shark chaser. Bonnie’s is home to wary reef sharks, known as “sleeping sharks” for their peculiar behavior of resting on the sea floor. The bottom of the ledge creeps at 85 feet deep, where you may find a school of social lemon sharks known to engage in community hunting. Watch them churn up sand in a feeding frenzy on bottom dwellers. As you ascend, flash your dive light underneath the coral ledges to look out for green and loggerhead sea turtles napping beneath them.

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Mandy Mizell
Mandy Mizell
Mandy Mizell is a local blogger, avid paddler, and beach comber. With a background in Environmental Science, she is a self-proclaimed Florida naturalist. Her blog, thegloballocal.world, inspires people to live global and stay local with ways to experience culture, respect the environment and live the best of the Florida lifestyle. Follow her on Instagram @the.global.local