Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve

jumping dolphin


Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve (SMR) is located off the Monterey Peninsula, about one mile southwest of Pescadero Point. Encompassing roughly half a square mile of offshore waters, this marine protected area (MPA) protects impressive granite spires and kelp forests and contains dozens of species of rockfish and invertebrates. The diverse underwater landscape draws recreational divers from around the world, with depths ranging from about 70 to 220 feet. Invertebrates like anemones, barnacles, and chestnut cowries occupy the rocks at shallower depths. As depth increases, cabezon, lingcod, kelp greenlings, and larger predators become abundant. An array of rockfish including China rockfish, vermilion rockfish, black rockfish, blue rockfish, and copper rockfish can be found swimming between the rocky spires that rise up from the seafloor.

No take is allowed within the boundaries of Carmel Pinnacles SMR, but anglers can fish for finfish within Carmel Bay State Marine Conservation Area, a short distance to the east.


It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(79)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

MPA size: 0.53 square miles

Depth range: 69 to 223 feet

Habitat composition*:

  • Rock: 0.40 square miles
  • Sand/mud: 0.13 square miles

*Habitat calculations are based on 3-dimensional area and may exceed the total MPA area listed above.

Photo Gallery

26 AUG

Western spiny brittle stars in Carmel Pinnacles SMR


photo © S. Lonhart/NOAA MBNMS CC0 1.0

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Video Gallery

California's MPA Network

About Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve

Natural History

sea palms and kelp extend off the rocky sea floor
Southern sea palm and giant kelp in Carmel Pinnacles SMR. photo © Stefanie, CC BY-NC 2.0

Located south of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel Bay is known for white sand beaches lined by cypress trees, and the tidepools that dot the water’s edge. Carmel Pinnacles SMR lies offshore and contains kelp forests, rocky reefs and patches of sandy seafloor. In shallower areas, kelp greenling, black rockfish, and gopher rockfish thrive in the canopy of giant kelp. This fast-growing kelp attaches to large rocks on the seafloor and reaches to the surface, creating three-dimensional structure that serves as refuge for many species.

Carmel Pinnacles' unique bathymetry, including the prominent inner and outer pinnacles, makes it a popular dive spot. Steep granite canyon walls and rocky spires extend nearly 100 feet, and strawberry anemones, nudibranchs, and colorful hydrocorals cling to the shallow edges of the pinnacles. In deeper water, schools of vermilion rockfish and blue rockfish are abundant. Lingcod and cabezon weave between the rocky reefs, and wolf-eels peer out of crevices. Sea lions, sea otters, seals, and the occasional pod of Risso’s dolphins can be seen hunting in these waters.

Cultural History

sea stars, sea cucumber and purple sea urchins
Purple sea urchins, orange cup corals, a giant red sea cucumber and brittle stars in Carmel Pinnacles SMR. photo © S. Lonhart/NOAA MBNMS CC0 1.0

For centuries, Native American Tribes in California have relied on marine and coastal resources. Many Native American Tribes in California continue to regularly harvest marine resources within their ancestral territories and maintain relationships with the coast for ongoing customary uses. The Monterey Peninsula area has a long history of human residence, with the Ohlone peoples occupying the area for thousands of years. The Ohlone traditionally subsisted on abundant marine and terrestrial resources, collecting abalone, urchins, limpets, and seaweeds in rocky intertidal areas. Native people along this section of coast and the Carmel River caught steelhead, salmon and shellfish, including abalone.

During the 18th century, many natives were displaced when Spanish fleets arrived. The Spanish built missions in the area, including the nearby San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in the early 1800s, ranchos were established around Carmel, changing the culture and landscape as land was converted to pasture for cattle grazing. In the early 1850s, Chinese immigrants brought sophisticated fishing techniques, and Monterey emerged as a thriving fishing port.

Commercial fisheries for abalone, rockfish, flatfish, sardines, and squid expanded. The canneries brought further commercialization, with Monterey adopting the name, 'The Sardine Capital of the World’. Between 1915 and 1950, roughly 235,000 tons of sardine were harvested from Monterey Bay annually, until the fishery collapsed from a variety of causes. Over the years, similar collapses of other fish stocks resulted in more stringent fishing regulations. As conservation efforts gained momentum, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was created and, in 2007, Carmel Pinnacles SMR became one of 29 MPAs adopted on California’s central coast.


SCUBA diver next to moss crab under water
A diver next to a moss crab in Carmel Pinnacles SMR. photo © Stefanie, CC BY-NC 2.0

Located about one mile offshore from Pescadero Point in Carmel Bay, Carmel Pinnacles SMR draws in recreational divers and underwater photographers eager to explore the impressive granite spires. Divers can take a boat to view the colorful invertebrates and diverse assortment of kelp forest species.

No take of any kind is allowed within Carmel Pinnacles SMR. Running parallel to the coastline in nearby Carmel Bay, Carmel Bay State Marine Conservation Area does allow recreational take of finfish. Carmel is a popular beach town that attracts many visitors who come to relax on iconic Carmel Beach, a stunning stretch of white sand beach lined by cypress trees and rocky tidepools.



This area is bounded by straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed:

36° 33.650' N. lat. 121° 57.600' W. long.;
36° 33.650' N. lat. 121° 58.500' W. long.;
36° 33.100' N. lat. 121° 58.500' W. long.;
36° 33.100' N. lat. 121° 57.600' W. long.; and
36° 33.650' N. lat. 121° 57.600' W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(79)

Downloads for Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve


Map of Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Conservation Area - click to enlarge in new tab

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet - click to enlarge in new tab