California’s Central Valley rapidly heats up during spring and summer. We all know that hot air rises, and as it does it drives our coastal winds, which in turn drives the upwelling that brings life-giving nutrients to our inshore reefs. These nutrients are why Monterey’s marine life is so abundant, but the summer wind often keeps us off our most exposed reefs. An optimal site to enjoy summer diving is at Otter Cove. Otter Cove is a bit north of popular Lovers Point and the famed dive sites along Cannery Row yet is a very underutilized site. Its name comes from the large raft of sea otters that often forages here.
Divers may park exceptionally close to the beach and take a moderate staircase directly to the entry. The nearshore rocks are covered with kelp and eelgrass. Once past the tidal zone rocks the bottom drops off slowly over several hundred yards. There is a large area that is only 10 to 15 feet deep that is covered with kelp and coralline algae. This area has quite a few nudibranchs (including some unusual ones), sea stars, tunicates and other invertebrates. There are not many fish here, just a few juvenile rockfish and surfperch. Broken abalone and clamshells litter the bottom, a sure indication that otters forage here. This is a perfect area for snorkelers since there is plenty to see in calm, shallow water.
As one swims into water that is 20 to 25 feet deep, there are a number of square-sided granite blocks that make pretty walls, with lots of encrusting invertebrates. Then about 300 yards from the entry, and near the edge of the kelp bed, the bottom drops away quickly to 50 feet. Here the reef consists of sand with rocky pinnacles. The pinnacles become more massive the further you get from shore. Tops of rocks are covered with holdfasts for a bed of giant kelp; and the bed can be very thick, especially during the summer months.
This area is the most photogenic with red strawberry anemones, orange cup corals, giant Metridium anemones and a multitude of colorful sponges. Look for small octopus, shrimp, and crabs in the cracks in the rock. Small lingcod and cabezon are rest on the bottom in plane view. Numerous species of rockfish are found here: gophers, blues, and browns. Small sculpins, kelpfish, and gobies flutter from rock to rock.
Beach divers are often disappointed that they do not see many otters here, despite the name. That is because the otters normally spend most of their time along the outer edge of the kelp bed, which is quite a distance from shore and a very long swim. Otter viewing here is best done from a boat or kayak.
Unlike other marine mammals, otters do not have a layer of blubber to keep them warm. Instead they have a thick fur coat that is the warmest of any mammal. During the 1800s they would have been hunted to extinction if a small group near Big Sur had not successfully evaded the hunters. There are fewer than 3,000 otters today along California’s Central Coast.
Otters need to eat a lot of food to stay warm and spend much of the day foraging for clams, abalone, urchins and fat innkeeper worms. They are also found wrapped up in kelp, napping, or energetically grooming their rich fur. Otters are tool users and each has their favorite to open up clam or abalone shells. Some prefer rocks, others like discarded soda bottles. Otters can sometimes be viewed underwater as they dig out clams from the sand, but mostly they may be seen and photographed from a boat. They will often choose to rest on a diver’s mat or float, and are sometimes reluctant to give it back.
Even if you do not get to dive with an otter this is a very relaxing dive with lots to see. If you dive from the beach be sure to check your tide tables and only dive here at high tide, but boat divers can enjoy this site any time. After your dive the surrounding coastline is a great place for a picnic. In spring and early summer the ice plant sets the bluffs ablaze in a sea of pink flowers. At this time the colorful scenery above the water is almost a beautiful as that below.
Location: About 1/4 mile north of Lovers Point on Ocean View Blvd. in Pacific Grove.
Access and Facilities: Beach access is via two sets of stone steps. Park on the street at the intersection of Siren St. and Ocean View Blvd., or in the paved turnout at Sea Palm Ave. and Ocean View Blvd. There are no facilities near the entries. Private boats may be launched from the public ramps Monterey Breakwater or between Fisherman’s Wharf and Wharf #2.
Depth: 10 to 60 feet.
Visibility: 10 to 40 feet.
Skill Level: Beginner or better.
Hunting: This site is within the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area: all invertebrates are protected and only finfish may be taken. There are few game fish here.
Photography: Great place to photograph nudibranchs and other invertebrates, as well as otters.
Hazards: Look for thick kelp in summer and fall. This site should only be dived at high tide to avoid walking across slippery rocks.