Like the land, the underwater world exhibits distinct seasons. Summertime brings plankton blooms and the entire Monterey Area teems with life. While this is great for the ocean’s inhabitants, divers often complain about poor visibility. However, this is a great time of year to grab your macro lens and enjoy all of the area’s fantastic little critters.
A site called Rock Ridge, along the northeast side of Point Pinos, is an often-overlooked Monterey dive site. A rocky boulder field runs parallel to shore, about 200 yards offshore. The boulders vary in size, but the larger ones are eight feet or more in diameter. This creates a textured bottom with lots of nooks and crannies — perfect hideaways for marine creatures. This is not the kind of dive site that will impress you with grand topography or huge animals but is best enjoyed by meandering along close to the reef, finding the superbly colored, delicate-little critters.
While anemones and sponges dominate most Monterey dive sites, this one seems to be all about the tunicates, bryozoans, and sea stars. Every kind of tunicate that is found in Central California is found here, and in abundance. Stalked tunicates are prolific. Spiny headed, elephant ear and light bulb tunicates are common, along with a half dozen species of solitary and colonial tunicates. If you wish to add tunicates to your photo collection, this is the place.
Fluted, lacy and staghorn bryozoans cover much of the reef that is not occupied by tunicates. While not particularly photogenic in their own right they are food for one of the most colorful and interesting group of marine critters — the nudibranchs. I saw a lot of Monterey dorids and other brightly colored yellow dorids on my last visit, but the white dendronotids stole the show.
We discovered a misinformed juvenile rock scallop attached to a stalk of coralline algae. Rock scallops normally end their larval stage by settling onto bare rock to which they permanently attach themselves. This one may have a hard time finding a permanent home after it grows larger and pulls free of the algae.
This is also a great dive for finding sea stars. Tiny, bright orange sea stars, along with giant spined stars, and the true giants of the sea star world, the sunflower star, are abundant. You’ll likely find lots of brittle stars and bright orange sea cucumbers hiding in the cracks of the reef.
Fish are also very abundant on this reef. Divers can expect to spot black-and-yellow rockfish, gopher and kelp rockfish and thousands of tiny juvenile blue rockfish. On a recent dive I spotted sculpins and kelp greenlings perched on almost every rock. This site does not offer a lot of game fish, but is a great spot for fish watching and fish portraiture.
I did see something while diving here that I have not seen in Monterey for over 30 years, an eight-inch red abalone out in plain view in shallow water. I regularly see abalone in caves in deep water (where the otters cannot get them), so seeing one in this location was a real treat. This site is a Marine Conservation Area, and all invertebrates are protected. Although spearfishing is legal, it is discouraged.
I once gave a slide show on the Philippines and one diver remarked that she always wanted to see colorful nudibranchs like those presented, but could not afford to travel that far. She was amazed when I suggested that Monterey (nearly in her backyard) was the place to go. Monterey has some of the most colorful invertebrate life anywhere, and for many of us it is an inexpensive local dive.
The author would like to thank Captain MaryJo Nelson and the crew of the Beachhopper II for their help in the preparation of this article.
Location: About 240 yards offshore northeast of Pont Pinos. Those with GPS may find it at 36° 38.398’N, 121° 55.507’W.
Access and Facilities: Boat dive only. Monterey’s charter boats leave from K Dock. Fee parking, toilets, restaurants and a launching ramp may be found at Wharf #2 and the Monterey Breakwater.
Depth: 40 to 70 feet
Visibility: 10 to 40 feet
Skill Level: Novice or better
Hunting: This site is within the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area. Taking of invertebrates is prohibited. Spearfishing is permitted, but discouraged.
Photography: Great macro photography even on days when the visibility to poor. Fair wide-angle photography when the visibility is better.
Hazards: Watch for boats and currents.