For years people have warmed me of the dangers of turning my hobby into my profession. ‘You will start to hate diving’ they say ‘you will get bored or jaded.’ I have to admit swimming through the murky green oceans counting fish for two days straight can be a little uninspiring and tedious, however I’ve always told myself how lucky I am to have such complaints and at least I’m not sitting in a cubical crunching numbers. Then there are the days, and dives that really make me realize how wrong those people are; case in point, the Reef Check California expedition along the Big Sur coast.
In early May Reef Check launched a kickstarter campaign to run an expedition up the Big Sur coast to survey 9 new sites that would start filling in data gaps between San Luis Obispo and Monterey Bay. The campaign was a huge success raising roughly a thousand dollars more than we expected. The trip was creating a huge buzz with our volunteers and recreational divers alike and we had no problem filling the boat with divers.
As I arrived to the Vision, docked in Morro Bay, on the evening of June 21st I was full of anticipation and almost giddy with excitement. Upon boarding I realized I wasn’t the only one, smiling and equally giddy faces greeted me. We set up gear and laid out sleeping bags and explored the boat which was going to be home for the next three days. We took off at roughly 2am to our first sites in the Big Creek reserve.
After the morning briefing and a few cups of coffee we geared up and made the first splash. As we descended onto the reef blue rockfish schooled among the giant kelp that reached to the surface making the light dance through the water column. Giant kelp and bull kelp reached to the surface with pterygophora creating a shady understory hiding vertebrates and invertebrates of all sorts. Vermillion rockfish darted through the kelp while the more friendly kelp and gopher rockfish came out of the cracks to say hello. Bigger fish like lingcods and cabezon’s also made appearances among the smaller fish, always startling me with their size and grumpy faces.
On the second day we moved farther north to the Point Sur reserve and made an early morning jump into 30-45 feet of visibility and 50 degree water. Once again the early morning and cold water misery was quickly replaces by the breathtaking reef. Wolf eels splayed lazily in nest of red kelp while abalone hid in holes and a purple hydrocoral grew along the side of a pinnacle. As a second dive that day we hit Andrew Molera reef which has now taken the top seat of ‘best dive of my life’ from the walls in Cozumel, Mexico. With more stunning visibility, jeweled snails, eels, abalone, rockfish, and anemones galore, I did want the dive to end.
Our third and final day was spent in the White Rocks reserve where we were brought about to reality of diving in central California. The near 18ft of visibility felt like a slap in the face in comparison to the previous days dives, however the vermillion rockfish nibbling on my transect tape still brought a smile to my face. I was also very excited to dive a newly re-named reef called Daddy Bob’s Reef. The pervious name Paranoids, was unfitting and just a little creepy, so the team and I decided to re-name the reef after my father who helped us raise nearly 1500$ in the kickstarter campaign.
In total we were able to complete all 9 of the planned sites and have a little extra time for a play dive. The new site list includes Point Sur, Andrew Molera, South Wreck, Esalen, Dolan, Lopez, Daddy Bob’s, Harmony and White Rocks as well as another new site surveyed the weekend prior on the southern side of the White Rocks reserve called 12 mile.
Words & Photos by Anna Neumann