Sewer Pipe - San Diego

CopyRight @ 1997

Animal life on the intertidal reef is completely dependant on the availability of places to hide from predators. Only a few creatures have strategies (like inedibility) that allow them to survive without cover. There is nothing like a rock pile to hide in under water and one of the biggest rock piles you will ever see is the Sewer Pipe off of Point Loma.

The Sewer Pipe is located near the middle of Point Loma and can easily be identified at where it starts at the shore. Every couple of hundred yards along its length, are white buoys about the size of a large beach ball, so it is easy to find. It sticks out near three miles off shore and ends in deep water. It is covered with boulders, so it is just like diving a large breakwall that sticks up off the bottom about 30 feet. It is basically just a huge rock pile and so it is loaded with life. It makes for a beautiful dive, day or night.
On both sides of it, depending on depth, much of it is surrounded by flat rock with thick kelp. It is OK for exploring and there are some rocks to see, but the Sewer Pipe itself is like an oasis of life in the middle of the large reef area.

It was a calm, warm, clear Fall night.
We headed south from Mission Bay towards Point Loma to make our first dive on the Sewer Pipe. Various other boats were visible for miles including one cruise ship lit up like an entire city. The kelp canopy is pretty heavy this year and the skipper gave a pretty complete dive briefing about the spot, including instructions to be sure to save enough air to swim back to the boat under the canopy. We were in 30 feet of water above the pipe, which made it about 60 feet to the bottom. I knew from experience that the south side is better and judging the time of the season, I figured that there would be more bugs towards shore.

The water was fairly warm and clear with at least 40 feet of visibility. It was excellent conditions. I headed off real quick down the side of the rocks and right away saw a nice, legal looking, bug in the open. I grabbed it and stuffed it in my bag. That seemed an auspicious start. I kept moving towards shore quickly, sometimes moving to the bottom of the rocks, sometimes moving up the sides. I was moving about as fast as I could see things with my light. There were lobsters everywhere. Unfortunately, most were obviously short.

There were lots of other critters to see. There are lots of sculpin (scorpion fish). I saw about a 6 pound male Sheephead asleep in a crack. There were a number of brilliant red kelp crabs bigger than my spread hand. I saw a couple of large Garabaldis way back in their holes. As always there are all the many smaller reef fish that stay close to the rocks. They come in all kinds of strange forms and colors, but I wasn't seeing any more legal bugs.

The kelp was quite thick. At one point I moved out over the flat rock that extends on each side of the pipe to see if I could find any lobster walking. The kelp was very thick and there was so much of it loose on the bottom, that I really couldn't see much. I fairly quickly went back to the rocks.

I decided to go to the other side of the pipe and see if it seemed any better. As I got on to the top of the pipe, the surge got much stronger. The top of the rocks are covered with coralline red algae. On the other side, the shorter lamanaria algae grew pretty thick. I like diving in those in the day, but at night they can make things more difficult by limiting visibility in your light. The life was somewhat different on that side, but it seemed like there were far fewer lobster to be seen. After a little while, I crossed back to the south side. I continued to shore and found two more bugs worth measuring, but neither turned out to be legal. At a point, It seemed like the lobster were getting scarce. Up until then, I had been seeing from one to four bugs every ten feet or so as I went from rock to rock. Now, I got to where I just wasn't seeing any. Even though I had plenty of air left before it was time to turn back, I decided that it was a better bet. It is a pretty dive, but being the first day of lobster season, I was disappointed. I figured I had air enough to get past the boat, even though I knew that some divers had already gone that way. Before long, I was encountering divers. Shining my light at their bags, I didn't see any bugs. I figured I would come up and look for where the boat was so that I would know which way to turn back when I did get low on air. I went to the top of the pipe and spent a bit of time there essentially at 25 feet and then made a slow ascent. Wouldn't you know it. I was at the boat. It was only about 50 feet away across the kelp. Well, we were going to do another dive in a spot that was supposed to be better, so I signaled OK with my light and came on in.

We re-checked my one bug to make sure it was legal sized. As more divers came aboard, a few had a bug or two to measure and though they were all very close, none were legal. Before long it was time to go to the next spot.

Lets stop this story right here. Suffice to say, the boat wouldn't start for about an hour and a half and then only because I pushed the button on the marine head and it seemed to clear the short in the electrical system so that they managed to start the engine. Luckily they had warm soup or the chill would have gotten to me. (I've got to get a vest).

I've had worse trips and I've had far better trips. I did have fun and was sure glad to get in a nice dive under good conditions. I was glad that I got at least one legal lobster, but that only one was taken on the boat is all to common in San Diego and many other places.

California is just over trapped by the commercial fishers and the sport divers just don't stand much of a chance competing. Fish and Game was at the dock. Even though it was obvious that I had the only bug, they checked most everybody.

It was a beautiful night for a dive.

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