By Anna Neumann, Reef Check California North Coast Regional Manager
For years people have warned me of the dangers of turning my hobby into my profession. ‘You will start to hate diving’ or they say ‘you will get bored or jaded.’ I have to admit swimming through the murky green water 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 gorgeous Big Sur coast of California.
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. The trip created a buzz among our volunteers and recreational divers alike and we had no problem filling the boat with eager divers.
On the evening of June 21st when I arrived at the Vision, docked in Morro Bay, I was full of anticipation and almost giddy with excitement. Upon boarding I realized I wasn’t the only one, smiling and equally happy 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 heading 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 forest while the more friendly kelp and gopher rockfish came out of the cracks to say hello. Bigger fish like lingcod and cabezon also made appearances among the smaller fish, always startling me with their large 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 were quickly replaced by the breathtaking reef. Wolf eels relaxed in nests of red kelp while abalone hid in holes and 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 not want the dive to end.
Our third and final day was spent in the White Rocks reserve where we were brought back to the 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 previous 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 surveys at 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.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible!