A small red octopus cocking its “eyebrow” at the camera. Red octopuses are quite common in Monterey, especially on the muck diving sites. It isn’t unusual, especially during night dives, to see quite a few of these fantastic little cephalopods
California is a diver’s paradise. Perhaps the crown jewel of all California diving is the world-famous Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Monterey Bay is the largest protected marine area in the United States, protecting over 6,000 square miles of ocean ecosystem. Countless fish species, birds, marine mammals, and invertebrates call the cold, nutrient-rich waters around the bay home. From shallow muck sites to towering kelp forests to the nearly 11,000-foot-deep Monterey Canyon, it is no wonder there is such a huge density and diversity of life along this stretch of the California coast.
The various marine ecosystems are truly a photographer’s paradise, and when conditions are good, Monterey can rival anywhere on Earth for world-class dives and incredible imaging opportunities. However, while there is still lots to love and appreciate in Monterey, the kelp forests, in particular, are imperiled. More frequent El Niño events, warmer waters, and unchecked predation by urchins have wrought havoc on the kelp. Work is being done to combat the urchins and save and regrow the kelp, but it is a battle that is just beginning.
While it would be impossible to showcase Monterey Bay in just one feature, hopefully the images here illustrate just how special a place Monterey is, why it is worth visiting and diving, and most importantly, why it is worth protecting and preserving.
Monterey Bay is loaded with nudibranchs like this colorful Hermissenda. From the muck dives to the kelp forests, nudis are ubiquitous in the bay
When a diver pictures Monterey Bay in their mind’s eye, it likely looks something like this. A school of rockfish gathers in the sunbeams beneath a dense canopy of giant kelp
A deceptively awesome photography subject, the fish-eating anemone. They grow to massive size in Monterey and often grow in quite photogenic spots—a perfect subject to practice composition and lighting, seeing as they don’t move
Plumose anemones, normally found farther north in the Pacific or in much deeper water, grow large at a few spots in Monterey. This cluster was photographed with the annual sea nettle horde passing overhead
A wonderous sight, the annual market squid run! These cephalopods gather by the millions (usually for several nights in winter) to mate and lay eggs. The squid are cool enough, but they attract a whole host of predators, from other cephalopods to seals to sharks
The goofily charismatic face of a turbot! An often overlooked fish, but with the right perspective and the right lighting, they make for fantastic portraits
Several different flavors of fish-eating anemones cluster together on a rock beneath the ubiquitous kelp and rockfish
A sea nettle silhouette, framed by a sunburst. While these jellies aren’t particularly dangerous, they can deliver a painful sting and when they are prevalent in Monterey, it isn’t uncommon for divers to come out of the water looking like they’ve had lip injections!
A textured red octopus curling up its arms and showing off those fantastic shapes. This is the exact same species as the first image, but it looks dramatically different
Cormorants search for food beneath the kelp canopy. Well adapted to hunting underwater, cormorants use their enormous webbed feet to propel them after fish and cephalopods
A weird little jelly that is not infrequently seen in Monterey is Scrippsia pacifica. The sea nettles get all the fame and attention but this strange little fellow often elicits far more excitement amongst local photographers
The famous Monterey Bay sea nettle horde. Every few years these stinging jellies arrive en masse to the bay. They do make for some amazing pictures but can get annoying as you are constantly peeling them off your face and your gear!
Nature is a wonderful creator. This small shrimp is perfectly adapted to living on kelp, matching the exact color and shade of the kelp. The kelp stalks themselves provide homes for countless fish, crustacean, and mollusc species
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