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Norrander's Reef
© 2004 Wes Nicholson, photos by Claude Nichols

Norrander's Reef is one of at least three major rock reefs and a number of boulder strewn areas that may be accessed from the Rockaway Beach City Park on the southeast shore of Bainbridge Island (see the directions and dive site map)

The opening of Rockaway Beach City Park in 2002 provided public shore access to a great area for diving natural rock formations. There are at least 3 major rock reef / wall complexes that run out from the shore. In addition to these complexes, there are a number of large boulders in the area, and especially in the shallows just off the various points along the shore. Much of the underwater rock reef complex at this site lies within an area that is smaller than the Edmonds Underwater Park.

The two reefs most distant from the park gate, Metridium Wall and Liker's Reef ,are often dived from boats and are marked by orange buoys. However, you can swim to these features on the surface as long as the current and wind conditions are favorable. Although these swims are long, divers often make longer swims at Edmonds.

In general, this area is not affected by strong currents and can be dived under most tide conditions. The bottom slopes towards the east and it is possible to go to depths of over 100 feet although by those depths the rock outcrops have largely been replaced by a sandy bottom. Surf at times can be a problem, making entry and exit over slippery rocks difficult. Another hazard is small boat traffic.

If you dive this area, come prepared for two or more dives. There is a lot to see. Try looking for little critters around the boulders in the shallows at high tide.

Please respect the park's neighbors by being quiet and by not trespassing on the private land at either end of the park and be aware that the park boundaries are not well marked. Note: the boat ramp on the north end of the park is on private land.

Norrander's Reef consists of a number of rock outcrops that run from depths of about 35 feet to 85 feet. The major outcrops start at about 50 feet and end at about 70 feet. The bottom to the sides of the outcrops is a mix of rocks, cobbles, shell and sand. The outcrops rise nearly vertically from the bottom to heights of 10 feet or more. Numerous cracks and crevices provide hiding holes for lots of small critters.

To find Norrander's reef, enter the water at the beach on the north end of the park and swim out to a small crab pot type buoy that is in front of the house to the north of the park. Descend along the buoy's line to its anchor. There is a small rope that runs from the anchor to the reef. This rope is often hard to find because it traps algae. As you follow the rope you will first encounter a large boulder in about 35 feet of water. The rope continues past this boulder to the start of the main reef in about 50 feet of water.

Be warned - it is easy to miss the reef structure if you don't follow the rope as it is very narrow and runs out from the shore at about 90 degrees. A strategy for finding Norrander's reef if you miss it underwater, is to try and figure out if you are north or south of the reef and then swim towards where you think it might be at about 55 or 60 feet (depending on the tide - at very low tides you may want to stay at 50 feet.

Based on a limited number of samples, the Rockaway Beach underwater reef complex is a great place to observe many small critters. There is a good diversity of both fish and invertebrates. I don't think that I've seen fewer than 16 species of fish on any dive there. Don't expect to see large fish - rockfish or lingcod. This area must be heavily fished, as large fish were notable in their absence.