We photographers often have a dilemma when choosing between challenging dives and relaxing dives. Challenging dives often offer up superb subjects, but depths and currents can limit bottom time and opportunities for creativity. Relaxing dives offer more time to be creative, but with harder to find subjects. Nirvana is to find abundant, colorful marine life in calm, shallow water. Nirvana is Lover’s Cove.
Lover’s Cove sits in the shadow of Harris Point at the extreme tip of San Miguel Island. This is a relatively remote site, and it sees relatively few divers each year. San Miguel Island is basted with nutrient-rich currents, and the marine life throughout the island is rich and prolific.
Lover’s Cove beach is gravel and sand with huge blocks of rock sprinkled about. This topography extends out into the cove where you find a flat rock bottom with huge rocks and boulders strewn about. The depths here are 40 to 70 feet. These rocks are dotted with large anemones and urchins, small cup corals, and offer anchor points for giant kelp. Large schools of rockfish meander among the kelp fronds, and larger lingcod and cabezon rest on the bottom. Abalone hide in the deep cracks. Numerous large, sheephead nervously move about, looking for a unsuspecting crab, or urchin in a precarious position. I, for one, am glad this area was designated a marine reserve to keep this fish population healthy.
Photographers will find stunning macro life on the rocks on the east side of the cove. Here you will find jumbles of boulders and large rock slabs that create a series of giant steps. They begin in about 40 feet and abruptly rise up to the surface. These steps are riddled with crevices and passageways. Most of these are only big enough for a fish to squeeze through, but a few are large enough for divers.
There are numerous small, but colorful fish hiding in the cracks of the reef. Look for sculpins, gobies, kelpfish and greenlings. In the shallow water you will have plenty of time to get acquainted with these photogenic fish.
The rocks here are covered with invertebrate life: orange and yellow sponges, bryozoans, and cup corals. This is one of the best spots I have ever seen to photograph nudibranchs. There are numerous species and they are frequently found on colorful backgrounds. Look for aeolids like Spanish shawls, Hilton’s nudibranch and Hermissendas. There are also a cornucopia of dorids like the gaudy clown nudibranch, and numerous yellow dorids, including the yellow porostome. In the calm, shallow water you have plenty of time to think about how you want to photograph your nudibranch and time to wait for it to crawl into a pleasing position on the right background.
Time is everything to an underwater photographer, and at Lover’s Cove you have both photogenic subjects and time. Lover’s cove may not be true nirvana, but it’s awfully close.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: On the North side of Harris Point, at the extreme northern tip of San Miguel Island.
Access: Boat only, this spot is dived by SoCal’s charter boats when conditions permit.
Skill Level: Intermediate or better.
Depths: 10 to 70 feet.
Visibility: Good, 30-70 feet.
Water temperature: Colder than the other Channel Islands, expect temperatures of 55° F or lower.
Photography: Great opportunities to photograph large game fish. Also, a great place to shoot nudibranchs and other colorful little critters.
Hunting: Most of the north side of San Miguel Island, including Harris Point and Lover’s Cove is now a fishing reserve and no marine life may be harvested. See California Department of Fish and Game Regulations for more information.
Hazards: Watch for currents along the outer edge of the cove, and thick kelp in summer.