While most of the diving in Monterey Bay is relatively shallow, there are a few outstanding, deeper reefs that are only accessible by boat. One of the easiest of these to get to is located directly off of Hopkins Marine Station, and most call this site “Hopkins Deep Reef.” This area is well protected by the Monterey Peninsula, and is one of the few deep reefs that are divable when the wind and swell pick up.
This site consists of a gently-sloping sand bottom that begins in 50 feet and runs out to around 90 feet. The sand is dotted with large granite outcroppings. These rocky outcroppings are most common in the 60-to 80- foot range, and the bottom becomes more shallow and rockier as you head inshore. Some of the rocks jut up 10 feet or so, but most have a lower profile.
Most of the rocks are covered with giant Metridiums, and these are the predominant invertebrate life here. From a distance they appear as a patch of giant cauliflower. They are so white and so reflective that they are easy to spot from a great distance, even in poor visibility. This also makes them tough to photograph as they are a bit too easy to overexpose.
Besides the Metridiums, the invertebrate life here is outstanding, and this is a good place to observe and photograph nudibranchs. There are numerous species and individuals of the dorid suborder, but there are more interesting aeolids as well—Phidianas and Hermissendas. Hopkins Deep seems to be popular with Spanish shawls, and you can almost always find one here. Spanish shawls are one of the most striking nudibranchs with royal purple bodies and flame orange gills.
The rocks here are not cracked and textured as you find at other spots in Monterey, but are rather smooth and polished. This is a bonus for photographers, since everything is out in the open with nowhere to hide. Look for little crabs and shrimp on this reef. Hermit crabs are found on the sand bottom, and cancer crabs and small shrimp hang at the base of the anemones. You might find an octopus among the anemones; it’s one of their favorite places to hide!
Small fish are found here in abundance—lingcod, rockfish, and greenlings. They are generally too small for dinner, but make great subjects for your camera. The greenlings and sculpins are often the most willing to pose, but rockfish frequently want to join in the fun. Some are so photogenic that you might expect their agent to present you with a contract.
Should you head east from the main reef, the dive site becomes a sand bottom in 90 to 100 feet of water. There is not much life here compared to the inshore reef, just few tube anemones, hermit crabs and the occasional halibut in season.
Central California dive sites can mostly be divided up into two varieties —beds of giant kelp, and sandy bottoms. However, there is another habitat that is quite distinctive and unique. Hopkins Deep Reef is one of the better of these “Metridium fields.”
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Directly off Hopkins Marine Station, Pacific Grove
Access: By boat or kayak. The best way to locate the reef is to begin in water deeper than 100 feet, line up the two smoke stacks on the Monterey Bay Aquarium and head directly toward the aquarium. Drop your hook when the depth jumps from 90 to 60 feet. Monterey’s charter dive boats frequent this site, and it is a good spot for advanced diver training.
Skill level: Beginner or better.
Visibility: Good, 15 to 40 feet.
Depths: 50 to 90 feet
Photography: Great macro for small fish and nudibranchs; good wide-angle for Metridium anemones.
Hunting: Go elsewhere.
Hazards: Watch for boat traffic.