Would it not be wonderful if all dive sites had plentiful parking with an easy walk to a very calm entry? A lot of sites are this easy to dive, but some of the better sites require a bit more effort, and often this extra effort is rewarded with a superior experience.
Carmel Meadows is such a dive site. This site takes its name from its proximity to the Carmel Meadows community in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The entry is actually on the south end of the Carmel River State Beach. This is among the most physically challenging beach entries in the Monterey/Carmel Bay area, since divers must hike down a staircase of eighty railroad ties. The hike to the water and, particularly the hike from the water, demands a fair amount of energy and commitment. So why would anyone want to expend the extra effort when there are entries with easier access a short distance away?
First, the bottom topography is outstanding. Here one finds a wide, sandy beach with large, rock outcroppings at each end. Divers may enter at either end of the beach. The shallow, inshore bottom resembles a strange alien world. Picture yourself swimming through deep canyons, alongside huge pinnacles and vertical mini-walls. There are several arches that are big enough to swim through and many smaller ones that resemble portholes. The terrain here is more three-dimensional than most California sites. Beyond the kelp the bottom turns to sand and rolls away into the Carmel Trench. This is one of two sites in Monterey County where divers have easy shore access to deep water. The feeling of flight is exhilarating as you following the canyon down into its depths.
Second, the fish life is outstanding, and you may spearfish here. This site is within a Marine Conservation Area where fishing is permitted, and adjacent to a Marine Reserve where fish grow big and fat. Carmel Meadows is a great place to spearfish for lingcod, cabezon and numerous species of rockfish. The cabezon and lingcod are normally found within the rocky areas, while thick schools of blue rockfish are found at the edge of the kelp.
Third, there is a good chance you will see unusual critters here, including leopard sharks. These sharks may grow to 4 or 5 feet and have distinctive saddle-like markings and large dark spots over their backs. Leopard sharks do not lay eggs, but seek out inshore areas to give birth. During March through July pregnant sharks may be found in the shallows of Carmel Meadows patiently waiting for nature to take its course.
In addition to the unusual stuff all of the things that make Central California great may be found here. This shallow area supports a healthy bed of giant kelp, and various species of algae cover the rocks. Look closely and the crevices may reveal a colorful assortment of tunicates, nudibranchs and small crabs. This is a very nice place for exploration in only 20-40 feet of water. A bit deeper divers find a number of very colorful fish-eating anemones.
Beyond the rocky areas the sand bottom here is quite interesting. In some areas huge mats of writhing brittle stars cover the sand. In other areas armies of olive shells march along, constantly searching for food. Some areas of the bottom are home to a virtual garden of sand-dwelling anemones along with their chief predator — the rainbow nudibranch.
The sand bottom is dotted with large boulders and rocks, and divers can reach extreme depths descending from one rock to another. These isolated rocky patches harbor quite a bit of invertebrate life, and are a great place to hunt for gopher and brown rockfish.
Carmel Meadows can be best described as “no pain, no gain” diving and requires beach divers to schlep their gear some distance to reach better diving. Alternatively, you could get there by boat. Either way you will be treated with a truly exceptional dive. Spearfishers will especially enjoy this site.
Location: Carmel, just north of Monastery Beach.
Access and Facilities: Divers should turn west on Ribera Road from Hwy. 1 and park in the lot at the intersection of Ribera Road and Cuesta Way. There is limited parking, no toilets, and divers must hike down 80 steps on a well-maintained stairway. Enter off the beach near the rocks to the right or left. Boaters may launch at Monterey Breakwater or at Point Lobos.
Skill level: Intermediate to advanced, divers should be in good physical condition to handle the stairs.
Depths: 20 feet+
Visibility: 20 to 60 feet
Hunting: This site is part of the Carmel Bay State Marine Conservation Area. Spearfishing is allowed in the Conservation Area but no invertebrates may be taken. This site is adjacent to the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve where nothing may be taken. Latitude 36° 31.70′ N. marks the boundary between the two areas, which is near where the south end of the sandy beach turns to rock.
Photography: Good macro and wide-angle.
Hazards: There is a steep walk to the beach. The sand here is coarse like that found at Monastery so divers should watch their footing while going in and out of the water. Plunging breakers can be dangerous on rough days. Divers should monitor depth carefully.