Winter diving in Monterey may be personified by Beauty or the Beast. When winter storms roll through it’s best to find a warm fire, far away from the water. However, something magical happens during the period between storms. The swell calms down, particles settle out, and the offshore wind from an approaching storm turns the surface Monterey Bay into a mirror and the water, gin clear. This is my favorite time to dive Monterey.
During the calm before the storm, divers are often able to dive sites that are normally quite rough. Coral Street Cove is a good spot to check out on these days. Coral Street is a tiny little nook in the coastline that borders a rock and gravel beach. When the south or west wind is up, the beach is free of surf, and entrees and exits are fairly easy due to a small point to the north that provides moderate protection from a westerly swell. However, the small cove is vulnerable to a northwesterly wind and swell of spring and summer.
The inshore bottom is comprised of boulders covered with palm kelp and, in a little deeper water, coralline algae. The bottom is shallow for some distance, so divers normally follow the channel running down the center of the cove to get to deeper water and to avoid crawling over the rocks at low tide.
A bit farther out the bottom consists of a saw tooth pattern of ridges and channels that run parallel to shore. Initially, the tops of the ridges are in about 10 feet of water and the bottoms in 15. As the depth increases the ridge tops come up to about 20 feet and the bottoms to 30 feet. After one swims somewhat over 200 yards the ridges fall away to a sand-and-rocky-pinnacle bottom with a maximum depth of 60 feet. There are numerous abalone and rock scallops way back in crevices. These are protected by law, so look but don’t touch.
Inshore rocks are covered with numerous species of algae. Several species of brown algae and thick carpets of red, coralline algae cover all of the rocks. Juvenile gamefish and other tiny fish are abundant among the near shore rocks and algae. This is a great area for fish watching.
Abundant invertebrate life is found in deeper water: colorful nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and sponges. The water is clearer here than most Monterey sites and underwater photographers will enjoy capturing color on the rocky walls and canyons. This is a good spot to find monkey-faced eels back in holes, and game fish is in plain view, as well as hiding back in holes.
Hunters are better off avoiding Monterey Bay these days. There is simply too much fishing pressure from commercial and sport fishers for any fishery to last very long. Bring your camera and enjoy photographing juvenile lingcod, cabezon, and an assortment of bottom-dwelling fish, such as sculpins and greenlings. Winter is also a good time to photograph juvenile rockfish, which school among the kelp or a passing gray whale
Strong, advanced divers sometimes swim all the way out to Chase Reef. However, it’s a long swim and there is a lot of boat traffic these days. A better way to get to both Inner or Outer Chase Reef is by kayak. A kayak is an ideal way to explore sites remote to the main entry and get good views of both otters and passing whales.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: In Pacific Grove, at the intersection of Ocean View Boulevard and Coral Street
Access and Entry: Park along Ocean View Boulevard. There are stone steps to the beach, but no facilities. Kayaks may be launched here, but not larger boats.
Skill level: Intermediate or better
Depth: 10-50 feet
Visibility: Generally good, 15-30 feet
Photography: Good wide-angle in rocky canyons and good fish photography.
Hunting: Coral Street is located within the limits of the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens Fish Refuge. No invertebrate may be taken in waters to a depth of 60 feet. There are no special restrictions on fin fish. There are few fish worth spearing in Monterey Bay these days.
Hazards: Watch for strong currents, surge and surf. Conditions can change rapidly. This site is best dived at high tide to minimize crawling over slippery rocks. Very thick kelp in summer and fall.