Adventure Guide to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

For those who love marine life, there are not many better places to visit than the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary’s cold waters allow for a vibrant marine ecosystem and one of the best places to scuba dive if you can handle the cold water.

In a past post, we talked about Monterey and why LeBron choose to move to LA because of it, but we wanted to go more in-depth on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It has to be one of the best places in the world to adventure underwater.

For some background information, this area is a national marine sanctuary, which means that the federal government protects it to help protect marine life and drive tourism. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is off the central coast of California and stretches for over 250 miles. It’s also one of the most diverse areas for marine life with 36 mammals and over 500 species of fish that call it home. As for the topography, it’s home to kelp forests, an underwater canyon, and at its deepest point, is over 2 miles deep.

For an expert’s opinion on the area, we spoke with Ed Bierman who has scuba dived in Monterey over 700 times. As Ed put it, it’s his “happy place” and a place he needs to go to monthly. Here is my conversation with Ed with his responses being summaries of them.


kelp monterey bay national marine sanctuaryPhoto Credit: Ed Bierman - Flickr


How did you get started in scuba diving?

Ed was certified in 1992 in Washington, more specifically, in Lake Chalan. In 1992, Ed and his family moved to the bay area of California where he was only 30 minutes away from Monterey Bay.

Ed eventually began to dive monthly in Monterey and realized it was his “happy place”. He loved it so much that he was teaching how to scuba dive in Monterey for a few years before retiring from that in 2010.

Where are the best places to dive in Monterey and why?

San Marcos Beach is one of the best places to scuba dive and is actually where many get certified to dive by PADI. It’s well protected by the natural elements because it’s in a cove, and shows a variety of sea life. If you go along the wall, that’s where the sea lions tend to hang out.

Another great spot according to Ed is Point Lobos. It’s part of the California State Park system and is a natural reserve to protect the natural beauty of the area. They protect the area so much that only 15 pairs of divers are able to dive this area per day. So, if scuba diving Point Lobos is in your future, make sure you plan ahead and schedule a time.

For another personal journey at Point Lobos, check out this post by Daisy at Simplicity Relished!


point lobos monterey bay national marine sanctuaryPhoto Credit: Daisy at Simplicity Relished

How you get your photography while you’re scuba diving?

One of the pieces of equipment Ed highly recommended for those wanting to document their travels is the TG-5 Olympus camera. It’s waterproof and is built for depths to 50 feet.

Another piece of equipment that Ed mentioned was having a light source. Natural light diminishes quick, and lighting in photography is important even if you weren’t underwater.

Do you have any editing tips for those getting started with underwater photography?

Editing isn’t Ed’s favorite activity to do, so that’s why Ed mainly takes still photos instead of videos underwater. Videos naturally take a lot more editing. When Ed is editing though, he spends most of his time on the color correction. Depending what kind of water you’re in, different filters can be quite helpful to make your images stand out!

Henley Spiers has an awesome underwater photography editing overview if this is something you’re looking into more.


Henly Spiers Monterey Bay National Marine SanctuaryPhoto Credit: Henley Spiers

What makes diving in the ocean so special?

The variety of sea life in the ocean is so different compared to freshwater environments. In coldwater environments like Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, there is marine life everywhere ranging from the smallest organisms to large mammals like Gray Whales.

Some of the mammals can be pretty friendly too. Sometimes the seals like to play with a diver’s fins, so if you ever feel something tugging on your fin while diving, it could be a seal trying to play.

The sea otters can be pretty playful too and even jump on the diver’s floats. Ed has even experienced them eating right next to him which was pretty neat. The otters usually hang around the kelp forests.


monterey bay national marine sanctuary ed biermanPhoto Credit: Ed Bierman - Flickr


Is there anything would be surprising to the first time diver in Monterey?

The cold water can be quite surprising, especially if you’re used to warmer waters. Ed said that if you’re used to more warmer water environments, that paying a guide to help you dive is well worth it. Monterey isn’t the easiest place to dive, so a guide can not only make sure you have a great dive, but also a safe dive.

Diving in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary can be challenging at times due to the cold waters, low visibility at times, and if you’re not used to kelp forests, you can get tangled up in them. If you’re diving in a kelp forest, Ed’s tip was to not twist!

It was evident that Ed had a true passion for the area and that he loved diving around marine life rather than looking at different underwater topographys. This can be the main difference between freshwater and saltwater environments at times. Freshwater dives tend to have more of a topography focus where saltwater dives will be more marine life focused in some variation.


Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary boat

Photo Credit: Ed Bierman - Flickr


Even if scuba diving isn’t your activity, there’s still a lot of ways to adventure in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Whale Watching, Kayaking, and Tide Pooling are all great activities within the sanctuary.


Monterey National Marine Sanctuary Whale WatchingPhoto Credit:


As Ed brought up, Monterey Bay has cold waters which is great for nutrients, resulting in a large number of plankton growing in the bay. Plankton are a key part of the food chain in this area and brings 27 different species to whale watch. With the Northwest winds, the coldwater remains near the coast which allows for whales to be seen on land.

Spring and summer are the best times to visit as that’s when the winds are bringing the cold waters to the coast, however, there are whales in the area no matter what time of year you’re visiting.

There’s also whale watching boat trips you can go on within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Humpback whales, dolphins, and porpoises are quite friendly too, so if they see the boat, they tend to come right alongside it. According to NOAA, it’s not uncommon to see several thousand dolphins or porpoises in the area. Crazy!

For information on whale watching tours and more photos, check out this post by Mallory Lindsly!


Kayak Monterey Bay National Marine SanctuaryPhoto Credit: Michael B. Bishop


For kayaking this area, it’s not necessarily the best idea to kayak the deeper ocean portions of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The kelp forests and wetlands of it are the places to kayak. They’re much calmer regions to kayak in, but just like Ed mentioned that the sanctuary isn’t the easiest scuba diving conditions, the same goes for kayaking.

The kelp forests can provide for a lot of great scenery and a lot of the smaller animals in the sanctuary are here. Pelicans, jellyfish, and sea otters are just some of the animals you might encounter if you kayak in the kelp forest areas. Just like NOAA reminds everyone, be sure to keep your distance though and be quieter if you run into them. That way you won’t startle them and cause problems for yourself.

Another place to kayak in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is in the Elkhorn Slough estuary. It’s a saltwater marsh and is home to many sea otters and birds. If you love to bird watch, this is the place to go. The American Bird Conservancy has even named this area a Globally Important Bird Area.

If you want to see a first hand experience of kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough, check out this post by Penny Sadler!


Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary tide poolsPhoto Credit: NOAA


For those who don’t know what tide pooling is, this is almost like scuba diving on land. There are a lot of smaller marine organisms in the tide pools. From unique plants to starfish, there’s bound to be something interesting if you decide to adventure into tide pools.

One note on the tide pools though - make sure to take a look at the tide schedules. It’s best to adventure them during low tides, that way it’s much safer and you’re not getting hit by some rough waters. Also, be careful where you step and touch. You don’t want to crush anything and even the simple action of turning over a rock can cause damage. Remember, these are mostly smaller creatures.

For more information on tide pools, check out for more information.

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