Coal Chute Cove

Looking out over the water in Whalers Cove and Bluefish Cove, the unfamiliar observer might conclude that these areas are rather small. However, with the varied topography and abundance of species, there are many dive sites in these two coves.  After having made hundreds of dives here, I know there are still a few undiscovered or unexplored dives. This article will cover Coal Chute Cove.

Coal Chute Cove, also known as "The Pit," lies along the geological interface of the Santa Coal Chute Cove mapLucia granitic substrate that forms Granite Point and the Carmelo Formation, a depositional conglomerate that forms most of the eastern and southern shore of Whalers Cove. This conglomerate of cobbles, sand, and shale is easily eroded by the wave action, and, as a result, is rife with caverns above and below the water. There are three submarine caverns in Coal Chute Cove, one of which is a popular and intriguing dive.

These caverns should be dived only during calm seas. The surge of even a moderate swell can be very dangerous in an overhead environment. Exiting the big cave through the small opening into Whalers Cove is also inadvisable. But on those rare days when the sea looks like a lake, this is an exciting shallow dive into a very rare environment in Central California.

The main cavern, which runs completely through Coal Chute Point, begins at a depth of about 25 feet. The mouth of the cavern is about 12 feet high and twice as wide, and tapers over a distance of about 50 feet to a small opening in Whalers Cove. This opening is actually a small blowhole if the ocean swell is running big. The strong, wave-driven surge supplies abundant nutrients which support a carpet of invertebrate life throughout the entire length of the cavern.

Filter feeding species, such as the sponges, are abundant along the ceiling and upper walls. The encrusting sponge, Hymenamphiastra cyanocrypta is common around the entrance, coloring the walls and boulders with its deep cobalt blue. The ceiling supports a large number of the rare, white, stinging sponge, Stelleta clarella, which only grows in caves and beneath dark overhangs. The middle area of the cave is densely populated with the southern staghorn bryozoan, Diaperoecia californica. The bat star, Patiria miniata, is abundant everywhere throughout the cave. Nudibranchs, the colorful sea slugs that are the underwater focus of many photographers, can be found around the mouth of the cave, feasting on the many different types of sponges. With a good dive light, it is an exciting and colorful dive.

East of the entrance to the main cave is a small, silty cavern that has several small burrowing anemones (that I have not yet identified) living in the silt floor. Across the cove from the silt cave is yet another cavern, which I have not explored because it is the home, or rookery, of a family of harbor seals, Phoca vitulina. Diving too close to this cave will frighten them, which is not only inadvisable, but illegal as well.

Diving in the rocky reefs and sandy channels in the middle of the cove and waiting for the seal to come to you is a better idea. These shy and sometimes affectionate mammals will accompany you on a dive, peering over your shoulder into a crevasse or tugging at your fins if you appear non threatening. They might even give you a hug. Any sudden moves, and they're gone. Divers with more air and time might want to swim along the northern wall of the cove, heading out toward Granite Point, the subject of the next article

By Patrick Lovejoy ©1996