I enjoy pleasant surprises. On a recent trip on the Monterey Express, the wind came up a bit and we tucked in behind Point Cabrillo for our second dive. Even though the wind was howling in the outer waters, we found a calm spot to dive. I was not expecting much from this site, but it turned into a wonderful dive.

We anchored on the southern border of the Hopkins State Marine Reserve, near the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Heading north, the sand bottom gave way to a rocky patch reef. Here the rock is deeply scored with cracks and crevasses and offers protection to a plethora of animals.

On this particular dive, I was overwhelmed by the fish. Thick schools of rockfish moved through the kelp bed. Many kelp rockfish hung in the kelp or hid in cracks. We encountered large yellowtail rockfish, kelpfish, cabezon and the occasional lingcod throughout the dive. I was particularly impressed by the approachability of these fish. They were so comfortable with our presence and cameras that I half expected their agent to swim up with a contract.

This reef was initially protected in 1931 as a study site for Stanford University and University of California scientists, and last year was given additional protection under California Marine Life Protection Act. In the absence of human predation, the fish here have grown accustomed to swimming with researchers and other non-threatening divers. Consequently, this is a great place for fish-watching and for fish portraiture photography. Within the reserve, these fish exhibit a natural curiosity towards divers that is completely absent in areas where they are hunted.

In addition to the fish there is a great assortment of invertebrate life to look at and photograph. The thick covering of coralline algae and the holdfasts of giant kelp provide shelter to a great many crawly things. Nudibranchs of every color and shape may be found in plain view. Here you will find many of the common and uncommon California dorids, and some outrageous Spanish shawls and hermissendas as well. An assortment of crabs and shrimp hide in crevice in the rocks or among the encrusting algae.

The rocks of Point Cabrillo are a haul out site for a large group of harbor seals. These playful animals will often choose to swim with divers and is it is a special moment, indeed, to peer around a rock and have fuzzy face peer back. Sea otters also reside here. Although it is rare to see them underwater they often will approach boats for a little “look see” before resuming their daily foraging/sleeping routine.

Hopkins Reef is protected by law, so divers will be able to experience Monterey’s reefs without modification by human activities. It is clear that this protection has facilitated the marine life here to thrive. We can only hope that California’s newly created reserves will be as prosperous, and that the abundant fish life will spill out into depleted areas. While this is happening you can continue to enjoy relaxing dives at Hopkins Reef, well protected from swell, and with an abundance of marine critters.

Dive Spot At A Glance
: In Monterey between the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Lover’s Point.
Access and entry: Boat dive only. Divers may launch their own boats/kayaks at the Monterey Breakwater for a short ride to the reef, or take advantage of one of Monterey’s charter boats. Divers are asked not to anchor in the reserve.
Skill level: Beginner or better.
Depths: 20 to 90 feet
Visibility: 15 to 30 feet
Hunting: None, no plant or animal may be disturbed within the reserve. If hunting in deeper water be careful not to take game shallower than 60 feet. Divers are asked not to disturb experiments.
Reserve Boundaries: The southeast boundary is the Monterey/Pacific Grove city line (the alley between David and Eardley); the northwest boundary is a line continuing out from 3rd street in Pacific Grove. The refuge extends from shore to a depth of 60 feet, encompassing the entire kelp bed off Hopkins as well as a slice of the kelp bed in front of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Yellow buoys mark the boundaries.
Photography: Great photography for fish and encrusting invertebrates, fair wide-angle photography on good days.
Hazards: Beware of boat traffic.