Orange County Dive Spot: Moss Cove

It had probably been about seven years or more since we’d visited Moss Cove, so I was excited to visit the area again, especially since it’s been a part of the new Laguna Marine Protected Area (MPA) for several months. Formerly a popular hunting area, I wondered if its new protected status would yield an uptick in biomass after only a short time.

The first thing I noticed in the shallow area is that the kelp forest appeared to have grown. Was this a result of the area now being a preserve? Possibly. Sea urchins can decimate a kelp forest. With fishing outlawed, the population of urchin eating fish species like sheephead was likely to increase. And sure enough, as we made our way into deeper water, we noticed there more sheephead than I recall from our dives made seven years ago. Most were small in size, but we did spot several tri-colored males, which is a good sign that a breeding population is being established.
Staying with the theme of more fish, I found perch, opaleye, and calico bass in abundance, although they were small. 
There is no shortage of garibaldi at most Laguna Beach locations including Moss Cove — especially since the garibaldi has enjoyed several years of protected status as California’s State Marine Fish. They are as friendly and photo-genic here as they are anyplace.
Speaking of photos, Moss Cove is a good area for photographing the kelp forest and its inhabitants. Getting your camera system through the surf can be a bit of a challenge, but you’re likely to be rewarded with photo subjects such as Spanish shawl nudibranchs, painted greenlings, gobies and other small reef creatures. In the shallows are colorful ochre stars. 
Entering the water here is best done at high tide, and pay careful attention to enter and exit during a lull between wave sets. Avoid diving Moss Cove if the surf is higher than three feet or so. The bottom drops off in a short but steep plunge close to shore, which causes the waves to build quickly and drop quickly.
The best diving area is to the left of the cove, to the southeast. You’ll notice heavy kelp growth in this area. On the outer edges of the main reef are moderate sized stands of golden gorgonian coral, which offers a nice pop of color to the reef scenic. Other invertebrates include a fair number of small rock scallops and lobster. (Remember, this is a preserve and there is no hunting allowed.)
Moss Cove (also known as Moss Point or Moss Street) is a good alternative to the busy and crowded popular dive area to the northwest on the other side of central Laguna Beach. Moss Cove is located adjoining Wood’s Cove, a good and better-known dive site immediately to the northwest. Parking is very limited on Moss Street with about a half a dozen spots nearby. Others can be found on Coast Highway. Even so, plan to arrive early, dive mid-week and/or off-season when possible. Access is easy by a 62-step stairway. The top of the stairway is a good place to assess the ocean conditions in the cove. As you descend the stairs, watch out for the last step — it is a doozy and depending on beach conditions at the time it may take some creative climbing to get to the sand. Remember to be courteous to area residents by keeping the noise down and not blocking driveways. 
With the new MPAs in place and being enforced, it’s likely that Moss Cove will continue to offer divers lots of marine life to admire for many years to come. 
At-A-Glance 
Location: Southeast (down the coast) from the main area of Laguna Beach. Access at Moss Street.
Skill level: Intermediate or higher with beach diving experience.
Diving Depths: Averages 15 to 50 feet. 
Visibility: Averages 15 to 25 feet.
Access and entry: Limited parking. There are 62 steps leading to a sand beach entry area. Plan to enter at high tide. 
Conditions: Surf entry, with surge. Do not dive here if surf is higher than three feet.
Hunting: None. This is a Marine Protected Area.
Photography: Good but getting camera through the surf can be challenging. 
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