East End Reef

Hello, my name is Ken and I’m a Wallaholic.

I LOVE diving walls. And that’s only one reason that I love to dive at San Clemente Island. But it’s also a reason that I really like to dive at East End Reef, located at the southeastern tip of Clemente.

It’s not a dive site you can get to every time. And it’s not exactly close, as it’s about a 60-mile run from L.A. (six hours) and roughly the same from San Diego, so it’s definitely an overnight trip. And since it’s rather exposed, a small swell may make it too rough for a dive boat to safely anchor. But the times that you can anchor . . . My, oh my!

You’ve got a myriad of choices for the types of dives you can do. If you’re a wallaholic like me, you can content yourself with cruising the edge of the sheer rock drop-off that starts around 40 feet and plummets down to the sand to a depth of roughly 100 feet. While cruising the wall you’ll get a chance to examine all the usual critters, including lobsters, eels, and abalone, who might live in such a habitat. And occasionally you can steal a glance out into the blue for whatever may be passing by, which could include a fairly large (and seemingly resident) black sea bass.

If walls aren’t your cup of tea, then head in through the numerous cuts and canyons and explore shallower areas. Here, you’ll glide through a verdant kelp forest, where the crepuscular rays of the sun dance through the fronds, and schools of fish dart to and fro. Depending on the time of the year, you may find garibaldi guarding nests or lobsters peering out from the safety of a crevice.

And if you’re a kelpaholic, East End Reef has plenty of Macrocystis pyrifera (giant kelp to the un-Latinized). In fact, it’s probably one of the thickest and most healthy kelp beds at Clemente. One of the really neat things is that you can see kelp growing to its maximum length of about 100 feet. Most of the time, boats will usually anchor on the edge of the kelp bed, which is also the edge of the wall. So you not only get a spectacular view of really long strands of kelp, you also get a great navigational aid since all you need to do is find the edge of the kelp, follow it around, and you should end up reasonably close to where you started.

Variety is truly one of the hallmarks of East End Reef. If you’re an experienced diver, you can explore the deeper areas along the drop-off. If you’re a newbie, you can head into the shallows. And if you’re somewhere in-between, you’ve got options too. The variety of the site is also the reason that many dive operators will choose to make two dives here since by simply altering the area you cover, you can alter your diving experience.

Another advantage the site has is that because it’s exposed, it’s also known to sometimes to have spectacular visibility, even exceeding 100 feet. (It can also be less-than-ideal too, but during those times, it may not be diveable so as to render the issue moot.) But on those great-vis days, it can truly be a magical place to dive.

One thing to remember when diving here is that the canyons and crevices can get you turned around. Head east and you’ll find yourself going around the edge of the reef and heading into Last Cove. Head too far west and you’ll actually end up in the middle of Pyramid Wall. So it’s a good idea to carry a compass with you, set a general course when you leave the boat, keep an eye on your direction-of-travel during the dive, and even draw a mental map of where you are as the dive progresses, all to ensure that you can find your way back.

East End Reef is one of those great SoCal dives that experienced divers yearn for and which brings newbies back time and time again. Next time you’re at the south end of Clemente, if it’s diveable, put in East End Reef as a site request with your charterer or boat captain.

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