Butterfly Reef

A wise man once said that you really don’t know much about a subject unless you can describe it with numbers. This is true about many aspects of diving. How is the visibility? What gas composition is in your tank? How many fish did you see? I recently participated in a REEF fish count (see sidebar) and came away with a profound appreciation of just how impressive numbers can be.

On our first dive we surveyed the Outer Butterfly Reef. This extensive reef lies offshore between Copper Roof House and the Butterfly House, and supports a healthy bed of giant kelp along with diverse populations of both invertebrates and fish. This site was not named after the area’s numerous monarch butterflies, but rather after a rather unique ocean side house designed in the mid-50s by famous architect Frank Wynkoop. Located near the end of Ocean view Avenue in Carmel, the house is known as “Butterfly House” because of its wing-shaped roof. Butterfly Reef is located in the center of Carmel bay, so it is a moderately protected site, divable on most, but not all days.
This site is only accessible by boat or kayak, and divers normally anchor on the west side of the large kelp bed. This is one of the thickest beds in Monterey and harbors a great deal of life. There are two very different dives here; divers may head east into the kelp, or west into deeper water.
The shallower water at this site is found east within kelp bed. The bottom beneath the kelp is rocky, and the depths here vary between 50 and 60 feet. Rocks are covered with anemones, tunicates and bryozoans. Schools of senoritas forage through the columns of kelp along with schools of small blue rockfish. Look for otters napping in a wrap of kelp, and an assortment of snails, fish, nudibranchs, and bryozoans living on and among the kelp fronds.
Offshore of the kelp bed you will find deeper water and more interesting bottom topography. Running perpendicular to shore are a series of rocky ridges. The tops are in 50 feet of water and the bottoms are at 70 to 90 feet, with a mixture of sand and rock in between. You can expect to spend most of your dive around 70 feet. In most places the ridges are nearly vertical, creating narrow, steep-sided valleys. The walls are covered with lots of colorful invertebrates — mostly sponges, cup corals and anemones. Look for crabs hiding in the large crevices, and chestnut cowries in the smaller ones.
What is really impressive with this area is the fish life. There are numerous lingcod sitting on rocky perches. Most of these are covered with scores of copepods. There are also large numbers of rockfish. 
On this dive my task was to count fish rather than photograph them, so I left my camera ashore and personally counted over 200 blue rockfish, two to five each of black, gopher, kelp, olive, treefish and china, yellowtail rockfish. There were also numerous blackeye gobies, snubnose sculpins, lingcod, and a single kelp greenling. In all, our group identified 49 species that weekend, and documented the health of the Monterey reefs. I learned quite a bit about Monterey’s fish from the other participants, and came away with deeper insight into both the variety and quantity of fish here.
There are many reasons to dive — sightseeing, photography, and hunting; but sometimes you want to give back to the ocean by participating in an organized activity such as an ocean clean up or fish count. Participating in these activities not only helps the ocean, but also leaves the participant with a deeper insight into the health and diversity of our local waters. 
At-A-Glance 
Location: About 1/2 mile offshore of Carmel, between the Copper Roof House and the Butterfly House. The site can easily be identified by the extensive, offshore kelp bed. The Copper Roof House has been re-roofed and is no longer copper-green.
Access and Facilities: Boat access only. Boats may be launched from Stillwater Cove or the Monterey Breakwater. Alternatively kayaks may be launched from either the Copper Roof House or Carmel State Beach. It’s too far to swim from shore.
Depths: 50 to 90 feet.
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced.
Photography: Good macro and great wide-angle photography. Good spot for fish photography.
Hunting: This area is part of the Carmel Bay Marine conservation Area and no invertebrates may be taken.
Conditions: This site is deep within Carmel Bay and is moderately protected from wind and swell. Divers should watch for currents, boat traffic, and thick kelp.
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