Inner Chase Reef is known among local divers as one of the best sites for underwater photography in the Monterey Bay. This reef is swept by ocean currents and yet receives moderate protection from Point Pinos. The combination produces relatively calm conditions with a cornucopia of marine life to photograph.
Chase Reef is a rocky outcropping composed of two structures. The Outer Reef is located in deeper water (40-110 feet), extends from Point Pinos towards Coral Street, and the only access is by boat. The structure of the Outer Reef is highly textured with huge pinnacles, deep canyons and large arches. Due to the lack of protection from swell and sometimes strong currents this is an advanced dive.
Inner Chase Reef is a more friendly reef, with shallower depths and easier access from shore. The Inner Reef begins between 200 and 300 yards offshore from the beach, located at the intersection of Coral Street and Ocean View Boulevard. The reef runs parallel to shore and consists of a series of rocky ledges and pinnacles that drop from 20 to 30 feet to a sand bottom in 50-60 feet of water. The visibility on the reef is among the very best in the Monterey area on any given day. It generally runs 20-30 feet on bad days and frequently gets up to 60-70 feet during the fall and winter months.
The reefs are easy to locate because of their thick growth of giant kelp that clearly outlines the reef except during the winter months. The top of the reef supports a heavy growth of palm kelp providing a canopy for royal carpets of strawberry anemones a bit lower on the rocks.
The area supports a varied profusion of tiny marine critters. Nudibranchs are everywhere. Look for gaudy horned nudibranchs, phidianas, and Spanish shawls. Dorids are the most common nudibranch in California. These are easy to identify, since they are relatively flat, have two horns and a single gill plume. They may be white, shades of yellow, orange, or red. The nooks and crannies of the reef are filled with shrimp, crabs and little fish. Not only are there photogenic critter here, but they are often found on photogenic backgrounds—colorful sponges, kelp, and bryozoans. This is a great place for macro photography.
Lingcod are normally found back in holes, so a dive light is handy, while cabezon and rockfish are normally found in the open. Often, huge schools of blue rockfish, as well as schools of bait fish, will move through the kelp bed— a very pretty sight with a combination of fish, green kelp, blue water, and sunlight streaming in from behind. While there are few large enough to hunt, they still make good photographic subjects.
The reef is inhabited by an assortment of seasonal marine mammals. Otters are often found here napping in the kelp, or hunting for abalone among the rocks, or clams or fat innkeeper worms in the sand. This is also a great place to photograph harbor seals. They are often very friendly and will choose to approach divers. A few are real hams and will eagerly pose for photos.
Most divers get to Chase Reef on one of the many Monterey charter boats. If you have your own boat you may launch it at the breakwater for the short run to Inner Chase Reef. Just anchor in the large kelp bed off of Coral Street.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Off Coral Street in the Monterey Bay
Access: Mostly by boat, strong and experienced divers may swim out from the Coral Street Beach.
Depth: 20 to 50 feet
Visibility: 20-60 feet
Skill: Intermediate to advanced
Photography: Excellent macro and wide-angle photography
Hunting: Like much of Monterey Peninsula, there is not much left to hunt these days.
Hazards: Watch for large waves, strong surge, and currents.