While beach diving is certainly a lot of fun, the dive sites with better visibility and more marine life must be dived from a boat since they are located so far from the beach. The area east of Point Pinos has a large number of “named sites” that are truly great dives. One of the more popular is Aumentos Reef; and for good reason since this reef supports one of the densest populations of marine life in the Monterey Bay.
The name of this site is likely derived from one of Monterey’s first European residents. “Aumentos” first appeared on the charts from the 1857 Coast Survey. It is a corruption of “Armenta’s” from the rancho of Jose Maria Armenta, the original Spanish Land Grant owner of the property around Point Pinos. Aumentos Reef should not be confused with Aumentos Rock, which is also on the charts and is close to Eric’s Pinnacle.
The high point at Aumentos is around 40 feet. The rock on the offshore side is a steep, granite wall that drops vertically to about 60 feet and then more slowly to 80 to 85 feet. The inshore side the reef drops off in steps to 50 to 55 feet and remains at this depth until one encounters Chase Reef. The shallow area is composed of massive, square-angled blocks that create a broken ridge top. This is a fun area to explore with deep cracks and valleys. The bottom offshore of the main reef is a sand-and-rock patch reef with an assortment of steep-sided mini pinnacles that jut up 5 to 10 feet off the bottom.
As the reef drops a bit deeper the rock walls are covered with fluffy, white metridium anemones. Go to the base of the reef and the rocks are spotted with bright red fish-eating anemones and encrusting sponges. This is a great place to watch and photograph marine life.
During two dives in late fall of 2015 I observed fewer nudibranchs and other small, colorful invertebrates than I am accustomed to seeing here. There were more urchins and barnacles present, and they have seemed to crowd out some of the critters I enjoying photographing. There were, however, more fish than I have seen on a Monterey reef in a long time.
We encountered an enormous school of blue rockfish on a small pinnacle off the east side of the main reef. It was so thick that it blotted out the sun as it passed overhead. Individual fish looked big, fat and very happy as they fed in the mild current. This school reminded me of the large schools we once regularly encountered in the 1970s. We also observed a large number of black rockfish hiding between the rocks along with a respectable number of gopher, copper and brown rockfish.
Large lingcod rested on the bottom waiting for an unsuspecting rockfish or octopus to wander too close. Winter is a great time to photograph lingcod. This is when the larger females move inshore to breed. You can usually distinguish the females since they are much larger than the males, and the really big ones often turn a golden yellow. The female deposits her eggs in a nook between some rocks. Once the male fertilizes the eggs, the female returns to deeper water, leaving the male to aggressively guard their spawn. This provides fantastic opportunities for photographers to acquire fish portraits. It is, however, a bad time to hunt lingcod, since if you shoot the fish the eggs will be rapidly consumed by a ravenous horde of scavengers, and result in the demise of tens of thousands of baby lingcod.
Aumentos is a great winter dive due to the opportunity to see and photograph a lot of different kinds of fish species. This is also the time of year when gray whales migrate through Monterey, so keep an eye out. Chances are, you might be fortunate to spot one of these beautiful giants as it makes its migration.
Skill Level: Intermediate or better
Location: Approximately 1/2 mile offshore of Pacific Grove, Monterey Bay at 36° 38.319’ N, 121° 55.273’ W.
Access: Boats may be launched from the public ramps at Monterey Breakwater or between Fisherman’s Wharf and Wharf #2.
Entry and Exit: Only boat access.
Depth Range: 40 to 90 feet
Conditions: Highly variable; usually moderate but sometimes strong currents. Watch for boat traffic.
Visibility: Good, 15 to 50 feet.
Photography: Great for reef scenics and fish portraits.
Hunting: Aumentos is part of the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area, where only finfish may be taken. However, since so many recreational divers enjoy this reef I suggest that you hunt elsewhere.
Cautions: Watch for strong currents, surge and boat traffic.