Most California divers seek out rocky reefs or thick kelp beds due to their profusion of life, and few would consider deliberately diving in the sand. While rocky reefs generally hold more of interest to divers, the sand offers a unique dive that should not be passed up. One of the better sand dives in the Monterey Area is at Del Monte Beach.
Del Monte Beach is a big stretch of sand that runs from Wharf #2 out past California State University towards Moss Landing. At the southerly end of the beach are several entries that are generally quite calm and easy. The waters near Wharf #2 are almost always calm due to the protection of the Wharf and Breakwater. It is, therefore, no surprise that this part of Del Monte Beach is a favorite location to take students on their first dive. The calm conditions and flat bottom also makes this a perfect location for advanced students to practice navigation skills.
In the shallow water (10-15 feet) near shore lie extensive beds of sand dollars. A bit beyond this is a sandy stretch that is home to many interesting critters. This is perfect habitat for flat fish and rays. Look for sanddabs, C-O turbots, and starry flounder. Also look for thornback, bat and electric (torpedo) rays. A great many snails may be found wandering around in the open including olive snails and moon snails. While many of the shells have their native mollusk inside, many others are inhabited by hermit crabs. If there is a rock under the sand, chances are there is an anemone attached to it, with its oral disk and tentacles extruded out to the sand.
As the water deepens a bit the sand gives way to fields of eel grass. Within the protective environment of the eel grass are numerous juvenile fish and an assortment of aeolid nudibranchs that are unique to this habitat.
Beginning about 200 yards offshore from Wharf #2 and running towards the Monterey Beach Hotel is a large shale reef. This patch of ocean is sometimes referred to as Tanker Reef or Shale Beds. The sea floor here consists of a series of shale ledges running parallel to shore. Attached to this meager rocky foundation is a thin forest of kelp consisting of both bull and giant kelp. Within the tiny crevices of the shoals are found a few octopus and a few small fish.
The shale is attacked by a species of boring clam that rasps away burrows into the soft shale. The clam holds onto the shale with its foot and uses its shell as a scraping tool. Beachcombers often find pieces of shale on the beach decorated with neatly drilled holes. This natural art is a result of many years of hard work by little clams.
Del Monte Beach is one of the best locations in California for hunting halibut. The entire Del Monte beach area is good for hunting halibut and the fish tend to move around in loosely associated groups. Large fish may be found from 40 feet to just beyond the surf line. Often a halibut will bury itself under a thin layer of sand with only their eyes exposed, while at other times they will be found lying in plain view. Their camouflaged coloration makes them difficult to distinguish from the sand bottom.
So, if you are looking for an unusual dive, or want to add some sand-dwelling critters to your portfolio, check out Del Monte Beach. It is a great place for the non-diving members of your family to relax or participate in beach sports, while you are doin’ it in the sand.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Between Wharf #2 in Monterey and California State University, Monterey Bay.
Access and Entry: Fee parking is available at the foot of Wharf #2, and in the small lot next to Monterey Bay Kayaks. Additional parking may be found near the end of Park Street near the laundromat. Divers with boats may launch at the Breakwater and head out to the waters off the California State University, Monterey Bay (formerly Fort Ord).
Skill: All levels
Depth: 10 to 50 feet
Visibility: 5 to 15 feet
Hunting: Fine spearfishing for halibut in late spring through early fall. California Fish and Game laws specify a bag and possession limit of 3 halibut north of Point Sur, minimum size 22 inches total length. Season is open year around. California halibut have a rather large mouth; both eyes are usually, but not always, on the left side of the head; and the maxillary (upper jaw) extends past the eye.
Photography: Good macro for sand-dwelling animals, Melibe nudibranchs can sometimes be found on the giant kelp beds.
Hazards: Watch for boats.