What is the best dive in Monterey Bay? What is meant by best? Best for photography? Easiest entry? Most varied marine life? Not an easy question; not an easy answer.
One way to deal with the question is to listen to what the experts say. Lynn May, former owner of the Silver Prince dive boat, could dive anywhere he wanted. He claimed that the best dive in Monterey Bay was underneath Wharf #2.
Beneath the wharf is a three-dimensional structure that has something interesting to see, from the water line all the way down to the 30-foot bottom. From the bottom, the pilings appear as Grecian columns reaching skyward.
The pilings of the wharf provide a substrate for a army of invertebrate life to cling to and flourish, and each has its own personality. Some are covered from the water line to the bottom with a lush carpet of corynactis anemones. Individual colonies may be fluorescent red, bright orange, lavender, or even shades of pink. Members of a colony show the same color, and colonies of different colors cover some pilings in a mosaic pattern resembling a patchwork quilt.
Other pilings are covered with a lush carpet of snow-white metridium anemones. Still, other columns are covered on their upper portions with the green, aggregating anemones, and in the lower portions with red corynactis anemones. Just to add a little diversity, an occasional piling is relatively barren of growth except for a giant metridium anemone.
Among the anemones hide an assortment invertebrates and fish. Large sheep crabs hang upside down waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting prey. Among the carpet of metridium is always found a small, red octopus or two, and there are numerous shrimp and hermit crabs scurrying among the pilings. Photographers should look for colorful nudibranchs, both up on the pilings and on the mud bottom.
The calm waters provide a nursery for many of the larger fish . I have never seen so many lingcod in one place, none over about 14 inches long and many under 10 inches. Noting that these are much smaller than the allowed minimum size, this is not a hunter’s paradise. It is, however, a pretty good spot for fish portraits. Other fish such as cabezon, various species of flatfish, kelpfish, and rays may be found here in miniature versions. This is a great spot for fish photography.
Wharf #2 is also where Monterey’s commercial fishing fleet discards its incidental catch (e.g., what they can’t sell). Fish packing houses on the wharf continue to dump their waste into the water, and in season you’ll find dead blue sharks, bat rays, and sea lions. This activity is legal and the fish carcasses feed a large population of sea stars.
People always seem to drop things in the water and this place is no exception. The bottom is littered with fishing supplies, wallets, purses, pocket knives, and old bottles. If you can drop it, you will find one here. Regardless, if you search for valuables, memorabilia from the past, or that award winning photo, everyone will find something under the wharf.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: In the Monterey Harbor complex, downtown Monterey
Access and Entry: Plenty of metered parking is available at the foot of the wharf. Divers may enter the water on the sandy beach just to the right of the wharf.
Depth: 20 to 30 feet
Visibility: 5 to 40 feet
Photography: Excellent macro photography anytime and good wide-angle photography when the visibility is good
Skill level and Hazards: This is not a dive for beginners. While the water is shallow, and the conditions are the calmest in the bay, there are many hidden hazards. The wharf is frequented by sport fishermen and monofilament fishing line is everywhere, along with a discarded gill net. Carry a sharp knife! The wharf has many sharp protrusions to cut an unsuspecting diver, and small boats take shortcuts by passing beneath the wharf. It is wise to keep your distance from the many fisherman. They get upset when they see bubbles around their fishing line.
Special Considerations: Divers must obtain permission from the Harbor Master before diving under the wharf. He is not obliged to give his permission, so ask politely.