Where coral reefs abound, a typical shallow coral reef formation is what is known as “spur and groove.” With the “spur and groove,” fingers of reef extend out from shore with sand “grooves” in between. Sometimes the space between the reefs is very narrow making deep crevice-like passages. Life covered mini-walls often abound. The closest resemblance to this formation that I have seen in California are the reefs at Fisherman’s Cove, Laguna Beach.

Now mind you, we do not have coral reefs in California. This reef formation was created in a much different way. The reef structure at Fisherman’s Cove was created by a fracturing in the native rock that runs roughly perpendicular to shore. Further reefs, rocks and deep crevices run out from the small cove.

The deep crevices and holes make for fascinating exploration. And marine life is certainly not lacking. Add to this the plus of being in our own backyard, and an easy beach dive, you could not ask for more.

Facing roughly south, Fisherman’s Cove (also known as Boat Canyon for the catamaran sailing boats stowed ashore) lies wedged neatly between the popular dive sites of Shaw’s Cove to the west and Diver’s Cove to the east. Parking, as a matter of fact, is the same area as for Diver’s Cove. This area is along the 600 block of Cliff Drive. Parking is limited, so arrive early and bring lots of quarters for the parking meter. Diver’s Cove will be directly in front of you. Fisherman’s Cove is hidden with access down a short path and a few steps to the left. If you are new to this area, get a feel for the lay of the land. Many divers choose to enter at Diver’s Cove and do a “cross country” dive circling west around the point to Fisherman’s Cove and exiting there—or visa versa. Entry/exit is generally a bit more protected and easy at Diver’s Cove.

 The sand beach at Fisherman’s Cove is tiny and often completely submerged in surf at high tide. Shallow reefs, dangerous in moderate surf, dominate the east side of the cove, so avoid this area for water entry and exits. Out from the cove, a wash rock breaks the surface about 100 yards out. Although there is good diving all around this area, the most interesting portion of the reef is just to the east of this rock and out. On the inside and to the east is a fascinating shallow bowl in 10 to 20 feet of water that is a great snorkeling area if its calm. There are tons of mussels with huge colorful pisaster stars leisurely feeding. Schools of big green opaleye cruise over these shallows grazing on the abundant food in the mussel beds.

But the most interesting portion of this reef is just a bit further out. A crevice starts in about 10 feet of water and then drops to 30 feet at the bottom. Vertical sides rise up creating a chasm that is 4 feet wide and 20 feet deep. Small critters and fish find shelter from the surge along the walls and in the deep, dark overhangs at the bottom of the deep gash. The crevice leads out from shore 50 feet or so until it reaches a point of collapse. A very narrow passage remains, but much too small in which to pass as a diver. Fish and lobster, however, find shelter here. Look beyond as this is your next destination.

Swimming up and over the collapse will bring you to the Mermaid’s Grotto. This is a hole in the reef, like a deep pit with various smaller crevices radiating outward. The bottom is 30 feet and top of the reef 15 to 20. Gorgonians are abundant along the pit walls, lining the various crevices, and across the top of the reef. They sway in the surge as bright orange garibaldi dance in the clear waters. Conditions here are generally good with an average water visibility of 15 to 20 feet.

There is more to explore to the west or east. To the west, out from Fisherman’s Cove, sand borders on the reef. You are likely to come across bat rays, even perhaps a leopard shark or halibut. Patch reefs punctuate the sand adding more interest with stars, anemones, and urchins. To the east you will be heading to the reefs off the point at Diver’s Cove. Chestnut cowries, rock scallops and interesting sea snails dot the rocks. Here and there are mini-walls that are great for macro photography of small fish. If you are heading this way, toward Diver’s Cove, and you have enough air and/or stamina you can complete your dive at Diver’s Cove.

Dive Spot At A Glance
: Along the 600 block of Cliff Drive in Laguna Beach. Path is marked by large brown sign to the west of the white apartments overlooking Diver’s Cove.
Access and Entry: Short path and a few steps to a sand beach entry. Alternate entry at Diver’s Cove and swimming to the west.
Skill Level: All
Depths: 10 to 30 feet.
Visibility: Good, averages 15 to 20 feet.
Photography: Good for macro and wide angle. Wide angle is fun in the crevices adorned with gorgonian sea fans and abundant garibaldi.
Hunting: Although Fisherman’s Cove is in a preserve that allows taking of most normal game, there is not much here to take and its close proximity to the marine reserve, beginning of the point at Diver’s Cove and extending east, makes hunting here risky at best. Don’t bother.
Facilities: None at Fisherman’s Cove. Metered parking at Diver’s Cove. Restrooms, showers and picnic area less than a block to the east at Hiesler Park. Dive shop close by on Coast Highway.
Conditions: (949) 494-6573 or http://www.scuba-superstore.com/store/conditions/conditions.asp or http://www.myoc.com/weather/ocean.shtml