Monterey County offers an enormous variety of dive sites. There are well-protected sites that are enjoyable to the least experienced of us, even during rough weather. Then there are exposed sites that offer up a wider variety and greater concentration of marine life. You do not have to travel to the remote corners of the county to find these sites; some are close, accessible, and are passed over by divers on their way to more remote sites.
There are several named dive sites in the vicinity of Point Pinos that are truly outstanding, particularly considering their proximity to more popular sites and the short time it takes to motor there from public launch ramps. Strawberry Fields stands out as one of the more unique and interesting.
Strawberry Fields is located on the northwest side of Point Pinos, and the dive site consists of a series of parallel rocky ridges that begin in about 25 feet near the edge of the kelp bed and run out towards the Point Pinos buoy. The tops of the ridges are rounded and fall away in steep-sided cliffs. The shallow tops are sprinkled with a bit of palm kelp, but this quickly gives way to an expansive field of strawberry anemones.
The Beatles could have surely used this site for inspiration. The anemones range in color from strawberry red to cherry red, lavender, orange, and pink. The expanse of this field and depth of its color is breathtaking; no other site in the area has such an impressive carpet of intense color. The anemones cover everything, all the rock surface and things growing on the rocks–barnacles, scallops, etc.
The fields of strawberry anemones give way to rocky walls covered in colorful sponges and large anemones. These walls are home to numerous crabs, shrimp, tiny fish, and some nudibranchs. Numerous small greenlings and sculpins slither among the invertebrates. And larger kelp greenlings and rockfish hide in the palm kelp and in the cracks in the wall.
Between the rocky ridges is a sand and gravel bottom. This is a good place to look for large rockfish and lingcod. You may also find bat rays digging out mollusks from the gravel. Look but don’t touch since this area was recently designated a marine reserve under the California Marine Life Protection Act. The fish here have yet to figure out they are in a reserve and cannot be hunted, but I suspect it will not take them long.
Behind the Strawberry site proper is a very thick bed of giant kelp above a rock and boulder field. Depths here are 20 to 30 feet and make a nice shallow dive. Here you will find lots of small fish and nudibranchs and other invertebrates.
So if you are looking for a top-notch site and don’t want to motor too far, this is the place for you. The expanse of color and marine life makes this a most enjoyable dive. It is very exposed to the northwest swell and is not diveable every day, but worth the effort when the seas are flat. Funny thing, on my last dive I could not get a certain Beatles song out of my head as I watched a parade of dive boats motor past.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: On the northwest side of Point Pinos, Monterey Bay. GPS coordinates N36 38.490, W121 56.466 (coordinates courtesy of Chuck Tribolet). Do not use GPS as your sole source of navigation.
Access and Entry: This site is too far from shore to dive from the beach, and a boat or kayak is required. Boats may be launched from the Monterey Breakwater, kayaks from any of the beaches near Point Pinos, conditions permitting. Look for a 25-foot high spot just offshore of the edge of the kelp bed.
Depth: 25 to 90 feet.
Skill: This site is for intermediate to advanced divers.
Hunting: None. The entire area is within the Asilomar State Marine Reserve.
Photography: Excellent wide-angle and macro photography; great fish photography.
Hazards: Watch for boat traffic and big swells and surge.
For Dive Boats Serving This Area: www.montereydiveboats.com