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Aquarium of the Pacific's Dive Immersion Program
One of my happiest childhood memories is of a family outing to Marineland of the Pacific on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The one image that sticks out i

NOSC Tower <- Prev  |  Next ->

Author  : Dale Sheckler
Location  : San Diego County
Date  : July 30, 2009

If you were to have gazed to the ocean horizon off San Diego’s Ocean Beach from 1959 to 1988 you would have spotted what appeared to be, at first glance, a small oil production platform. It was, however, the Naval Ocean Systems Center (NOSC) tower dedicated to oceanic research. At 100 feet tall and sitting in 60 feet of water, it provided years of valuable data not only to the U.S. Navy but also to the scientific community.

But in 1988 all that ended. During a particularly violent storm, a rouge wave smashed into the tower toppling it forever onto the ocean floor. Never to be rebuilt or salvaged, the wreckage, already a haven for marine life, fully blossomed into a complete mini-ecosystem. Once again an accident of mankind had become a boon for the underwater realm — but also a playground for divers.

The twisted metal, now underwater for over 20 years, is covered with marine life and surrounded by critters and creatures. The dive is multi-leveled so there is a variety of marine life “zones” to visit with the structure. The bottom is a bit over 60 feet down and the top of the structure is at 35 feet. The middle and upper areas swirl with schools of blacksmith and other baitfish and as well as bigger calico bass and other predators waiting to pounce on the smaller fish. Sheephead work on the growth looking for a bite to eat. Small schools of good-sized perch also poke about. The metal members are covered with a thick layer of mussels, scallops, and other mollusks, providing crevices for crabs and smaller gobies and the like. While this area provides some macro photo opportunities, this is mostly wide-angle territory with good angles for upward silhouette shots of divers and fish among the old wreckage.

The bottom wreckage is the main event. Probably the first thing you will notice is the abundance of huge stars. They get fat from the numerous mussels and other shellfish that fall from the wreckage above. Their colors make for excellent photo opportunities with a variety of hues and textures in contrast to one another.

The fish in the twisted metal and debris present additional photo subjects. Fat cabezons lurk about the bottom near the old steel. Large barred sand bass cruise the bottom. Venture a bit away from the main wreckage and you will find additional junk scattered about the bottom that hold small lobster, crabs, ghost gobies, nudibranchs and other critters. And out across the sand halibut lurk.

The NOSC tower likes in the area off Ocean Beach known as “Wreck Alley.” Here are the wrecks of the 366 foot-long Canadian destroyer Yukon (lying in about 100 feet of water) and the smaller but just as interesting Ruby E (85 feet down). All of this is just a few minutes boat ride outside of Mission Bay where there are a number of dive charter boats serving the areas. The dive charter boats will often dive the deeper wreck or wrecks and then dive the Tower as the second or third dive of the day, so plan your dive accordingly.

Although usually not quite as good as the deeper wrecks, the water clarity here is fair to good at 10 to 20 foot of visibility. Currents are rare but surge can affect the diving some. While most of the loose debris was cleared long ago, carry a good knife as fishing line can still be a problem on occasion.

Dive Spot At A Glance
: About a mile off Mission Beach, San Diego in the area known as “Wreck Alley.” GPS coordinates: N32°46.315, W117°16.121 (GPS for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation). The site is usually marked with a mooring buoy, but if it is gone you'll need a depth finder to help you find this one.
Access: Boat only. Short boat ride. Several dive charter boats visit this site. There are launch ramps in Mission Bay for private boats.
Skill Level: All levels
Depths: 35 to 60 feet
Visibility: Fair to good, averaging 10 to 20 feet.
Photography: Excellent for both wide angle and macro. This is a great camera dive.
Hunting: Discouraged in the Wreck Alley area.

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