Exploring the Monterey Breakwater at Night

My buddy and I silently glided across the inky black water. The sun had set several hours before, and the streetlights warmly illuminated the nearby rocks and hotels. However, the water was as black as black can be. Out of the darkness immerged a bewhiskered face. The otter swam right up to my buddy with a great deal of speed and sense of purpose. He then placed a paw on each side of my buddy’s mask, pushed his nose to the glass, and appeared to try to get a good look at the face behind the mask. The encounter only lasted a few seconds, but was one of our most memorable encounters at The Breakwater.

The Breakwater was built in 1934 by the Coast Guard, and offers the calmest entry in the Monterey Bay. The nearshore waters are a great place for scuba classes; yet, advanced divers and photographers will enjoy the marine life, particularly the large colony of sea lions at the far end of the breakwater. While the Breakwater is a wonderful place to dive during the day, the area experiences a rebirth at night. As the light begins to fade many of the creatures commonly seen during the day bed down for the night, while the creatures of the night come out to feed.
Divers enter the water from the large beach on the north (ocean side) of the Breakwater. From the beach extends a sand bottom, which gradually slopes down to a maximum depth of 60 feet along the 400 yards of the breakwater. The Breakwater itself is fabricated from large granite blocks and these blocks create a labyrinth of small crevices and passageways in which a virtual army of sea creatures find a home. As night dives go this one is a particularly easy one to plan. The city lights as well as the streetlights on the wharf provide ample light for gearing up and for topside navigation, while underwater the rock pile provides a constant point of reference.
The best diving at the Breakwater is along the rocks, which make up the structure of the breakwater itself. The rocks are covered with colorful carpets of strawberry anemones, encrusting sponges and bryozoans, which make colorful backgrounds for macro photographers. Nudibranchs are often found grazing in the open at night. Commonly seen at the Breakwater are the lemon nudibranch and dendronotids. Clown nudibranchs are particularly noticeable with their orange gills and white bodies.
Striped shrimp hang on the underside of rocky ledges and monkeyface-eels peer out of holes. Juvenile abalone and an assortment of small crabs come out of the rocks at night.
Many octopuses can be found along the rock pile, although they can easily retreat into the rocks before you ever see them. However, your chances of finding octopuses are better in the sandy area just away from the rocks. They are often seen hunting in the open, or they may bury themselves under a thin layer of sand with only their eyes exposed. Should a crab or shrimp wander too close the octopus will quickly extend a single tentacle and snatch it up. A great many octopus live here and, if you look carefully, you should be able to find 20 or so on a single dive. 
Rainbow nudibranchs are common in the sandy areas. These large, 7-14 inch, nudibranchs are a bright shade of red and owe their entire existence to the burrowing anemones. They feed on the anemone’s tentacles, and mate and lay eggs on the anemone’s stalks. The eggs of these nudibranchs are most often found draped around a burrowing anemone stalk and look like a mass of overcooked spaghetti.
Not all dive sites make good night diving sites. When the sun sets on some sites the entire reef seems to go to sleep, while others seem to come alive. A good night diving location is one in which you can observe creatures that are not normally seen during the day, and The Breakwater is one of the best night dives around. 
At-A-Glance 
Location: A t the south end of Cannery Row in the City of Monterey .
Access: Pay parking is available at the foot of the Coast Guard Pier and in several large parking lots a block from the water. The lots fill up quickly in summer and during salmon season, so plan on getting there by 8 AM on weekends. The lot will be nearly empty at night. Access is via a short set of concrete stairs and a wide, calm beach. There are restrooms, and a free launch ramp. A dive shop is on the premises.  
Diving Depths: 10-60 feet.
Skill: Novice to advanced.
Conditions: Very calm, the most 
protected entry in the Monterey Area.
Visibility: 15-30 feet.
Hunting: None for divers. The Breakwater is part of the Edward F. Ricketts State Marine Conservation Area, where only recreational take of finfish by hook-and-line is permitted.
Photography: Excellent macro photography as well as good opportunities to photograph sea lions and octopuses. Only get your wide-angle lens wet on exceptionally clear days.
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