Diving Mendocino: A Photographic Study of the Creatures and their Habitat

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Posted by Craig Hoover on August 29, 2011 at 04:33:55:

Hi All,

I returned from Mendocino this week and have some favorites to share. I visit Mendo the second week in August to see redwood forests, taste the best wines, harvest blackberries for a pie and dive the rugged coastline for its beautiful creatures and a limit of abalone. The friendly small town vibe of Fort Bragg is a nice change of pace from the crowded life here in Los Angeles.

I am fascinated with nudibranchs. Mendo has great diversity. Many animals rarely seen in Southern California are found in abundance here. The lined dirona, Dirona albolineata, is my favorite from these waters. This shot was taken at Pipeline from The Headlands. Rocky exposed outer coast such as The Headlands is the best area to find large reefs and diversity of nudibranchs.

One reason that there is such great abundance and diversity of nudibranchs in Mendocino is the geology of the area. The San Andreas fault is the border between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. It runs parallel to the shoreline in Mendocino approximately a mile offshore. When these two plates grind together the hard igneous rock basalt from the Pacific Plate is twisted and mixed with loose sandstone from the North American Plate. The sandstone is eroded by waves. The basalt remains to form boulders, pinnacles and caves. With a large amount of vertical space receiving little to no light, invertebrates are able to compete with quicker and faster growing algae. Nudibranchs are common on these invertebrate walls.

Here is a shot from inside one of the caves of Jack Peter's Gulch.

The Point Cabrillo marine preserve is another site with rocky exposed outer coast. This site is unique for the huge red urchins that cover the surface from twenty feet to sixty feet deep. The reef drops to these depths within ten yards of the shore. No animals may be taken within the preserve. Fish such as this lingcod, Ophiodon elegans, are not only huge but also friendly. This fish swam into the frame while I was photographing urchins and posed for a shot.

Other invertebrates share huge reefs with urchins and nudibranchs. Here is a shot of the Puget Sound king crab, Lopholithodes mandtii. This shot was taken at Tophat Rock offshore from Van Damme state park. This site faces south and is protected when there is violent northwest swell throughout the area. The lee of these pinnacles is protected rocky coast. Invertebrates usually found at the fifty foot depths of outer rocky coast are found at thirty foot depths here.

Did I mention that the diving in Mendocino is rugged? The water temperature in the peak of the summer is forty five degrees at depth. Entries range form super easy to double black diamond and there is little middle ground. Protected coves have six inch waves. Exposed outer rocky shores have four foot swells that lift a divers up and place them on top of exit points. Hold on tight to exit the water here, they don't call them evolutions for nothing. Visibility averages twenty feet on foggy days and may be fifty feet on sunny days in outer waters. For serious beach divers Mendocino is a paradise. There are endless sites to please the hunter, photographer and anyone who likes a challenge. The beaten path ends here.

Many thanks to Blake and the guys of Sub Surface Progression, Fort Bragg's full service dive shop. See you guys next year!

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