Florida Muck Diving | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

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This time on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World,
Jonathan goes muck diving to film some outlandish marine life! Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and Welcome to my
world! For most divers, the best diving involves
warm, clear water and lots of colorful fish. So coral reefs are the most popular dive destinations. But as divers gain more experience, they seek
out new and different diving environments, like shark diving. Or cave diving, and everything
in between. One exciting environment is muck diving. I
know, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but trust me, if you like cool critters, muck
diving is where it’s at. Muck dives don’t generally involve any actual
muck. Usually they’re just dives with a sandy bottom inhabited by critters that have
adapted to this unique habitat. It’s stuff that either doesn’t live on reefs, or would
be very hard to spot on a reef. While technically, muck diving can be done
just about anywhere there’s a silty, sandy or muddy sea floor, certain places around
the world have developed quite a reputation for good muck dives with lots of critters.
And this is one such place: the Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, Florida. This may not look like much of a dive site,
but this bridge is actually world-famous for the stunning diversity of interesting critters
that inhabit the shallow water just below the traffic zooming by! I’ve stopped in for a couple dives to check
out the diving and find out what all the fuss is about. But I’m terrible at finding stuff, so I
have enlisted the help of local Blue Heron Bridge expert Jeff Nelson, from Force-E, a
local dive shop. It’s sort of a weird dive. We suit up in
the parking lot, and then walk over to the water’s edge. Because there are strong currents here when
the tide is coming in or going out, we have to dive during a short window when the tide
changes. So my dive today begins at dusk, during the high tide slack. I’ll have all I can handle with my camera,
so Jeff will tow along a dive flag. It floats above us to make sure the people in boats
can see us. It’s still light as we sink down into only
6 feet of water and start looking for critters. Jeff has promised me one of the hardest fish
to film—a jawfish with eggs. The jawfish is my quarry. Almost immediately, Jeff finds me a weird
fuzzball. It almost looks like a jellyfish, but this is a large nudibranch called a sea
hare. And this one is laying its eggs! As we continue on through the murky water…a
sea horse! In most places, sea horses are not only hard to find, but frustratingly uncooperative.
I think this guy has seen enough cameras that he knows if he poses for a minute or two,
I’ll go away and leave him alone. A puffer is attracted to my lights and comes
over for a look. Nearby, the fastest sea star I have ever seen,
racing across the sand. And then, another cooperative sea horse, using
its prehensile tail to grip an old piece of rope. Without Jeff to point out these little guys,
I would probably swim right by them and not even see them. With the sea horses in the bag, it’s time
to move on. We pass a Yellow Stingray hunting for food.
They eat mostly shrimp, worms and clams—stuff that lives in and on the sandy sea floor.
I just hope this hungry stingray doesn’t find those sea horses! A mantis shrimp sticks its eyes out of its
burrow to check out my bright video lights. But it’s definitely not coming out. Jeff knows where to find a small octopus.
It dives into its home when I approach. But if there is one thing about octopods, they
are curious. Staring at its reflection in the lens of my camera, it soon comes out to
investigate. First, a quick touch of the camera housing.
I stick my finger around into the shot to give the octopus some scale. You can see that
this is a very small octopus. But nobody told her that! She grabs my finger with her suckers
and tries to pull me into her den. If you ever have the opportunity to arm wrestle
with an octopus you will find they are amazingly strong. And the suction cups feel so weird
on my skin. While hunting for the jawfish, we come across
a super rare and weird fish. This little guy is a batfish. It walks along the bottom on
legs that have evolved from pelvic fins. And just over its mouth…a retractable lure
used to fish for prey. It’s gill openings are hidden behind its
pectoral fins so the prey won’t see it breathing. When it decides to swim, you can tell that
this fish isn’t really designed to swim very well. Definitely a bottom dweller! Towards the end of the dive Jeff finds me
the elusive Jawfish with eggs—but I blow it by moving in too close, and scaring the
little fish. He won’t come out. And my lights are probably frightening him too. So I give
up. But don’t worry, I have a plan. Will Jonathan manage to film the elusive jawfish?
Stick around and find out! Early the next morning, we are back at the
bridge for the next slack tide. So before the sun is even up, Cameraman Todd and I are
gearing up with Jeff. This time I really hope we can film that Jawfish! We drop down into the shallow water and start
making our way over to the Jawfish’s burrow. Along the way I am seduced by another octopus!
Ask any diver…octopods are too cool. You just have to stop and watch them when you
find one! This one is a little bigger than the other
one. Cameraman Todd and I take turns getting some shots and waiting for the octopus to
do something interesting besides just stare at us. I stick my hand out to see if I can rouse
the animal’s curiosity. She is not going for it. Fortunately, Jeff teaches me a better
way—make my hand look like an octopus on the sand. And it works! With a couple suction cups, she tries to take
me home. That was really fun, but my mission is to
find the jawfish, so we move on. There he is—the elusive jawfish. But this
time I’m going to work my way closer very slowly so I don’t spook him. Oh no, I scared him again! Oh wait a minute,
he’s coming back up. How do I know it’s a him? The eggs give
him away. When it comes to jawfish, the male guards the eggs in a very unlikely place—his
mouth! Jawfish are mouthbrooders, meaning that once
the male has fertilized the eggs, he takes them from the female and keeps them safe in
his mouth for about 2 weeks until they hatch. During that time, dad can’t eat anything.
The eggs are transparent. You can see the little eyeballs of each baby jawfish inside
the eggs. Every once in a while, he has to aerate the
eggs. To do that he spits the eggs out and then sucks them back in. He does this every
minute or two for a couple weeks! With my mission complete, we head back towards
the beach–past the concrete columns of the bridge. I come across a snake eel, out early looking
for breakfast. The snake eel (which is an eel, not a snake) pokes its head into holes
looking for small fish and invertebrates to eat. This one caught a small crab. By the time we finish the dive, the sun is
up in Riviera Beach. As Jeff and I emerge from the ocean, I can’t believe how much
stuff I saw on such a shallow dive in the most unlikely spot. Muck diving is fun! That dive was amazing! So many cool little
critters! On my trip to the Blue Heron Bridge, I only
had time for a couple dives. But in only two dives, I saw a huge variety of animals and
I know I barely scratched the surface. The Batfish, sea horses, octopods and Jawfish
are rare animals that are not easy to find anywhere, yet we saw them on one dive here.
Needless to say, I’ll be back for more. Muck diving is awesome!

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