In their rush to motor to Carmel Bay, many divers pass right by some of the best sites in the Monterey Bay Area. There are many fantastic dive sites from Point Joe to just south of Cypress Point that often go unexplored. This is due to a number of reasons, notably the local landscape offers no protection from the prevailing wind and swell, and thus they may only be dived on the calmest of days. Many simply do not know these sites exist. One of the more accessible sites to divers is called Local’s Ledge. This is a small area just south of Cypress Point and offshore of the Cypress Point Golf Course.
The site consists of a box canyon that runs northwest to southeast, with the closed end in the northwest corner. There are two high spots at approximately 44 feet deep on each side of the canyon. The canyon walls are vertical and drop to a relatively flat 70 to 90 foot bottom. On the offshore side the rock slopes steeply to a 110-foot sand bottom, while the inshore side gradually rises to the shoreline in a series of lesser canyons, some with small arches.
The reef here looks just like a healthy, California offshore reef should look. The very tops of the rocks are capped with a layer of palm kelp that quickly gives way to trees of pink and purple hydrocoral, as one gets a bit deeper. The vertical walls have some hydrocoral, but large, fish-eating anemones are more common at depth.
Hydrocoral is a misunderstood invertebrate. It is not related to the reef-building corals of the tropics, but is more closely related to hydroids than anything else; and should be more accurately called “hydroid corals.”
In addition to the hydrocorals the invertebrate life here is outstanding. Small crabs and parasitic snails live among the branches of hydrocoral. Every nook and cranny is filled with one of several species of crab, or shrimp, or sea cucumber. Rock scallops are found back in cracks for those with keen eyes and the patience to look for them.
The fish life here is quite good. Larger lingcod and cabezon sulk on the bottom, while rockfish species including China, black-and-yellow and gopher rockfish hide among the hydrocoral. Schools of blue rockfish patrol the offshore ledge.
Winter and early spring is a particularly good time to observe and photograph lingcod. This is the time of year they mate and nest. In this species the female soon departs after her eggs are laid and fertilized, and the male remains to guard the nest.
Regardless of the quantity and quality of marine life, the sheer grandeur of this site is very impressive. On a good day with 50-plus feet of visibility, you can easily perch yourself on one of the high spots and take in the immensity of the canyon. Descend into the depths along the wall and the site becomes even more impressive with its steep-sided walls and chiseled surfaces that often meet at right angles. This site can be compared to an underwater Grand Canyon.
The author would like to thank Captain Brian Nelson and the crew of the Beachhopper II for their help in the preparation of this article.
Location: Just south of Cypress Point between Monterey and Carmel Bays. The two high points may be found at: 36°34.357′ N, 121°58.591′ W and 36°34.332′ N, 121°58.609′ W.
Access and Facilities: Boat dive only. Private boats may be launched from the public ramps Monterey Breakwater or between Fisherman’s Wharf and Wharf #2.
Depth: 44 to 110 feet.
Visibility: 20 to 70 feet
Skill Level: Intermediate or better.
Hunting: This site is outside of the Marine Protected Areas and hunting is permitted, but discouraged because the site is so pristine.
Photography: Great macro and fish photography. Great wide-angle photography of hydrocoral and reef scenes when the visibility is good.
Hazards: Attempt to dive here only on the calmest of days. Watch for surge and boat traffic.