Dozens of blue rockfish flowed in and out of view as we descended the anchor line. There was a strong plankton bloom that day and visibility on the surface was limited, but the rockfish did not seem to care as they picked off the larger tasty bits that floated by. At 40 feet the top of the pinnacle popped into view and we were startled by the intense pink and purple colors of an expansive field of hydrocoral. The swaying palm kelp seemed to beckon us closer and invited us to explore more.
While beach divers talk about great reefs, Monterey boat divers look for pinnacles, and there are many in the Monterey-Carmel area. One of the most famous is a Carmel site divers simply call The Pinnacles, but there are others nearby that are just as interesting, just less famous. One of my favorites is East Pinnacle.
East Pinnacle is comprised of three distinct pinnacles. The most westerly of the three pinnacles is all about the hydrocoral. The high spot is about 40 feet deep and the surface of the rock rolls away to 100 feet or more. Its top is capped with a thick bush of palm kelp with small patches of strawberry anemones scattered about. Drop about 10 feet and the rock breaks up into a series of deep, but narrow, cracks and fissures. Lining the walls are enormous patches of pink and purple hydrocoral. These are among the most abundant and largest trees found in Carmel Bay. These large trees seem particularly delicate, and divers should be careful not to crush these beautiful and slow growing invertebrates.
Hydrocoral trees make great wide-angle photo subjects, but photographers should take time to look among the branches for macro subjects. Crabs, shelled mollusks, and sea stars often take refuge in the protection of the coral. On this dive we saw numerous barnacles, whose shells were completely encrusted by the coral, and there were numerous blue-ring top snails on the coral.
On this dive there were far fewer large fish than I remember from previous dives, but the small, photogenic fish were there in force. Gobies, greenlings and several species of skulpin were sprinkled along the walls of the canyons, including one particularly photogenic snubnose skulpin. Small shrimp and crabs peered at us from the safety of their cracks.
The easterly of the three pinnacles begins at about 55 feet and has a bit different topography and marine life. This dive site is a giant hunk of granite that is fragmented with many large cracks. These are 10 to 20 feet apart and form a series of steep-sided canyons. The rocky walls are covered with layers of sponges in some areas while others have a coating of strawberry anemones. Large anemones are sprinkled along the rock walls. There is some hydrocoral here but not as much as the easterly pinnacle. This is a good spot to look for nudibranchs. The most common nudibranchs here are members of the dorid family. These come in many colors but always have two horns in the front and one gill plumb in the rear.
Divers should not pay too close attention to the reef and glance out into open water every now and then. In addition to the often-present school of small rockfish, you may also expect to see a sea lion or two. Hordes of very large jellyfish drift by and are frequently enjoyed by divers. Some of these jellyfish may have tentacles over 10 feet long, but their bells may only be 18 inches across.
Location: About 1/2 mile south off Pescadero Point in Carmel Bay. You will need GPS to find them at 36° 33.343′ N, 121° 57.503′ W; and 36° 33.337′ N, 121° 57.467′ W.
Access: Boat only.
Depths: 40 to 100 feet.
Skill Level: Intermediate or better.
Photography: Good photography for invertebrates and reef fish. Great wide-angle photography for hydrocoral and reef scenes.
Hunting: This site is within the Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve and nothing may be taken.
Hazards: Divers should watch for swell, currents and boat traffic.
Charter Boats Serving the Area: www.montereydiveboats.com