By Sammy Cimeno
The most northern dive sites along the eastern side of the Monterey Peninsula are among Central California’s best. These sites are moderately protected by the massive Monterey Peninsula, yet have clearer water, healthy kelp beds and more abundant and diverse marine life than the more protected sites of the Inner Bay. This is a great place to dive with seals, sea lions and otters, along with game fish and colorful invertebrates.
It is, however, not the best place to hunt since the entire area is contained within two of California’s State Marine Conservation Areas. To the south of Lover’s Point lies the Lover’s Point State Marine Reserve, where nothing may be taken; and the sites from the north side of Lovers Point to beyond Point Pinos are within the Pacific Grove Gardens State Marine Conservation Area where only finfish may be taken. This means that there is more life for divers to see and photograph. And, yes there is a lot to see:
This is an easy site to love. Lover's Point has easy entries that give way to an interesting assortment of both vertebrate and invertebrate marine life, only a short swim from shore. The offshore patch reef is very colorful with various anemones, sponges, tubeworms and bryozoans. Among the invertebrates divers will find an abundance of small gobies, sculpins and juvenile rockfish. However, this is also a great place to dive with larger animals. Bat rays are often found digging for invertebrates in the sand off the south side of the point, and harbor seals and otters frequently accompany divers here.
Divers seek out Otter Cove to get away from the crowds and find an incredible variety of marine life. The rocky bottom is scared with nooks and crannies, and many critters may be found within. Look for small octopus, shrimp, crabs and the occasional monkeyface eel. Small lingcod and cabezon are often found in plane view waiting patiently for a crab, octopus, or juvenile rockfish to wander too close. Numerous species of rockfish are found here: gophers, blues, and browns. Of course, a lot of otters hang out here, mainly at the far edge of the kelp bed.
Eric’s is a very comfortable pinnacle dive offshore of the Otter Cove Entry. The pinnacle is covered with strawberry anemones in the shallows and dotted with huge fish-eating anemones near the bottom. This rock is split in several places and the giant fissure runs all the way through the pinnacle; look for small fish and invertebrates hiding in the cracks. A resident wolf eel can often be found just above the pile of broken shells on the east side of the pinnacle. Larger-than average lingcod are frequently found on the deeper rocks surrounding the pinnacle.
If you really want to get away from other divers, check out the Coral Street entry. The deeper reef consists of a saw tooth pattern of ridges and channels that run parallel to shore. The scale of the ridges increased steadily as you head offshore. After one swims somewhat over 200 yards the ridges fall away to a sand-and-rocky-pinnacle bottom. Abundant invertebrate life is found in deeper water: colorful nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and sponges. The water is clearer here than most Monterey sites and underwater photographers will enjoy capturing color on the rocky walls and canyons.
Chase Reef is composed of two extensive, rocky reefs that stretch from near Point Pinos to near Otter Cove. This is a great spot to dive with harbor seals, otters, and schools of rockfish; and photograph tiny reef fish, nudibranchs, and colorful, encrusting invertebrates. Near Point Pinos is the wreckage of a fiberglass-hulled fishing boat. The hull has been battered to pieces, but the area has plenty of artifacts. This area is a great place to find and photograph marine mammals. Look for sea lions on the Point Pinos buoy, and you don’t have to look for harbor seals here, they will find you.
Aumentos is a massive ridge, offshore of Chase Reef, that is a joy to dive on calm days. The top of the reef is covered with a thick carpet of Corynactis anemones. As the reef drops a bit deeper the rock walls are covered with fluffy, white Metridium anemones. Go deeper and the rocks are spotted with bright red fish-eating anemones and encrusting sponges; lingcod and cabezon are normally found on the bottom or back in cracks. Because of this site’s proximity to offshore waters, there is a good chance of seeing pelagic fish, and migrating grey whales in winter and spring.
This is a site where you do not have to be a cryptologist to understand how this site got its name. While there are many interesting critters to look at and photograph, this site is all about the anemones. Those found at the White Wall are Metridium giganteum, the white-plumed anemone, or the giant anemone. This is the West Coast’s largest anemone and can grow to around 3 feet tall and whose stalk can be as large as 4 to 5 inches thick. In addition to the Metridiums there are also plenty of large and small fish, nudibranchs, and schooling rockfish to make the most jaded diver very happy.
In my opinion this massive pinnacle is simply the best dive in the Monterey Bay. This spot has everything—clear water, colorful invertebrate life, unusual bottom fish, schooling reef fish, and giant pacific octopuses. The shallow area is covered in red strawberry anemones; among the anemones are an assortment of barnacles, nudibranchs and stony corals. At the bottom, a bit away from the rock, on the southeast side is a nice patch of red gorgonians. Gorgonians are not that common in Monterey at recreational diving depths, so these are a real treat. Look for simnia shells, festive tritons, and slender shrimp on the gorgonians.
This is my favorite beach dive in Monterey Bay, and has exceptionally dramatic underwater topography. Huge boulders and short rocky pinnacles give way to elongated ridges with sheer faces and, in deeper water, massive pinnacles. The area has an unusual assortment of algae that are more similar to those found at Southeast Farallon Island or offshore rocks of Mendocino than the Central Coast. This site is noteworthy for its large population of lingcod, cabezon and assorted species of rockfish. In over 100 feet of water lies the biggest bed of rock scallops in the bay. Look, but don’t touch they are in a reserve.
Strawberry Fields stands out as one of the more unique and interesting dive sites In Monterey, and you definitely do not have to be a Beatles fan to understand what makes this site special. The rocky ridges are covered with fields of strawberry anemones. Colors here vary from strawberry red to cherry red, to lavender, orange, and pink. The expanse of this field and depth of its color is breathtaking; no other site in the area has such an impressive carpet of intense color. In between the anemones you will find numerous crabs, shrimp, tiny fish, and some nudibranchs.
When the seas are calm to moderate the dive sites of the Outer Bay are simply fantastic. Either by shore or boat or kayak, these sites are home to an incredible variety of fascinating marine life.