Monterey County has an incredible variety of dive sites, and nearly every public access point offers up a great dive. However, some sites are often very crowed with beach lovers and divers, while equally good nearby sites go unnoticed. Otter Cove is one of those sites. Nearby Lovers Point is often chock-full of divers, while you may not find another diver at Otter Cove, and these sites are only about a quarter-mile apart.
At the Otter Cove parking area a sign lets you know you are in Pacific Groves’ Perkins Park. Hayes Perkins retired to Pacific Grove in 1938 after a life of adventure, traveling around the world. He volunteered to remove nearly all of that nasty poison oak that once covered the bluffs surrounding Pacific Grove, and replace it with ice plant. It was later recognized that ice plant is one of the better plants to prevent coastal erosion. Regardless of what the city named this beach, divers have called it “Otters” for decades after the large raft of sea otters that often forage and nap here.
Divers may park exceptionally close to the beach and take a moderate and well-maintained staircase directly to the entry. Enter off the sand beach that is very protected by the offshore kelp and reef, and its generally a breeze. The near shore rocks are covered with thick eelgrass, so it is best to enter here at high tide. I normally like to snorkel to the near shore edge of the offshore kelp bed, then submerge and enjoy the deeper reef, while saving enough air to swim back underwater to the beach. This is a relatively shallow dive so you can enjoy ample bottom time.
Most of the kelp bed is in 25 to 35 feet of water. Under the kelp, the bottom consists of mostly large boulders with a number of enormous steep-sided pinnacles scattered about. Some of these break the surface at low tide. The rocks are dotted with numerous red and white fish-eating anemones. Divers will find a large variety of tunicates on, and among the rocks, here — solitary tunicates, stalked tunicates, light bulb tunicates, and several species of colonial tunicates, including one of my favorites — Taylor’s tunicate.
The kelp bed here is one of the thickest and healthiest in Monterey Bay. I am always impressed while I swim among the towering stands of kelp; it’s like flying through a forest. Beneath the kelp are a number of interesting invertebrates including several species of sea cucumber. On a recent dive there were very few nudibranchs out and about, mostly yellow dorids, but there were a large number of their near relatives, sea hares. There are some game fish here, smallish lingcod and a couple species of sea perch, but this is not the best place to hunt.
Offshore of the kelp bed is a mostly sand bottom that slowly recedes into deeper water. There are a few boulders that jut out of the sand, but the generally more interesting dive is under the kelp. However, the sand here has a large number of shelled mollusks, including purple olive shells, moon snails and California cone shells.
This is one spot where you must swim underwater all the way to shore. Once you leave the bed of giant kelp, you will find a area of feather boa kelp, that gives way to red algae that only grows to 12 inches or so, and then to eelgrass. Among the red algae and eelgrass may be found a large number of small fish, including blackeye gobies, sculpins, and a great many young-of-the-year rockfish. I ended up startling a number of larger fish including cabezons and ronquils. The latter move with an eel-like motion, and easily slip between and disappear into the low-lying kelp.
Otters are predictably found sleeping at the far edge of the kelp bed, wrapped up in some giant kelp. However, they are often found foraging in the near shore areas or resting in the eelgrass. On a recent dive we found a group of six napping at the far edge of the kelp bed and a single individual actively foraging in the eelgrass.
So if you want to get away from the crowds and dive in a magnificent kelp forest with lot of fish and invertebrates, you have got to check out Otter Cove. Considering that this site has parking so close to the water and an easy entry, this is a great place to bring your less experienced friends, but experienced divers will have a great dive here as well.
Skill Level: Beginner or better.
Location: About ¼ mile north of Lovers Point on Ocean View Blvd. in Pacific Grove.
Access: Park in the paved turnout at the intersection of Sea Palm Avenue and Ocean View Blvd. Beach access is via stone steps.
Entry and Exit: Enter off the sand beach. This is one of the most protected entries in Monterey.
Depth range: 10 to 40 feet
Conditions: The conditions here are normally very calm.
Visibility: 10 to 40 feet
Photography: Great macro photography for invertebrates, and small fish.
Hunting: This site is within the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area where all invertebrates are protected and only finfish may be taken. There are few game fish here.
Cautions: Thick kelp offshore. The near-shore area has a lot of thick eelgrass, so it is best to dive here at high tide.