Edmonds Underwater Park

Date Reviewed:November 2002
Location:North of Seattle near the Edmonds ferry
Access:Shore dive
Site Description:Diverse artificial reefs located in a marine preserve
Main Attraction:Godzilla sized Lingcod and Cabezon

Edmonds Underwater Park (UWP) is probably the best known dive location in the state of Washington. I do not think I know a Seattle area diver who has not visited here at least once. Most divers I know have dove Edmonds UWP at least 10 times. I am certainly not an expert on this site, but it is almost a crime to be a PNW diver and NOT do this site at least once. So in case you haven't been here, I will tell you some of what I do know about it.

Getting to Edmonds UWP is easy. Just follow the signs from I-5 to the Edmonds/Kingston ferry. The park is located just to the north of the ferry landing. Parking here can sometimes be a challenge, especially on weekends. Occasionally, some of our party has to drop their gear off at one of the picnic tables by the beach, then park on the streets behind the park.

The reasons for Edmonds UWP's appeal are many. From a facilities standpoint, it can't be beat. If you are lucky or get here early enough, you can park right near the beach area/entry point. Restrooms, complete with large changing areas, are located at the end of the parking lot. In the summer months, a fresh water shower is available to rinse off your face and dive gear after the dive. The park does turn the water to the outdoor shower off in winter to prevent freezing pipes. The park also boasts a large map (located by the bathrooms) of the park's underwater attractions. The beach here is beautiful, and there are several little picnic areas to help you make a day of it when the weather is good. To the north of the immediate park area is a rock breakwater, which offers the entry area some protection from the north wind. To top it off, the park is located on the Edmonds waterfront, so there are all sorts of little restaurants to hit after the dive or to catch a bite to eat and warm up between dives during cold months. And finally, Underwater Sports has a well equipped dive shop less than a mile to the south.

What makes Edmonds UWP so special, however, is that it is a marine sanctuary and that several individuals have undertaken heroic efforts to create a diversity of artificial reefs accessible from the beach. The reefs included everything from a large portion on an old dry dock, to a large wooden tugboat (the "Triumph"), to a hodge-podge of tire collections, old boats, concrete block, wire hoops, rock piles, and who knows what else. The area covered by these man-made reefs is expansive, extending from just north of the ferry terminal itself to well beyond the breakwater to the north. You could easily make 10 dives at this site and not see everything. Buoys mark many of the attractions. My personal favorite "reefs" are the "Triumph" and the dry dock.

However, to me these reefs are only a catalyst. These reefs offer structure that attract some of the more popular species in the PNW. The star of the popularity contest at Edmonds has to be the Lingcod. I don't think I have ever done a dive at Edmonds where someone didn't say "Did you see the SIZE of that Lingcod????" Although I can sometimes find bigger Lingcod in the sound, I never see as many large Lingcod at one dive location as I see at Edmonds. These monsters seem to thrive here, and often exceed 4 or 5 feet in length. They are scattered throughout the site, especially around the dry dock area.

In addition to outrageously large and abundant Lingcod, expect to find some other fish that are larger than life (well, at least large than you will consistently find elsewhere). Cabezon flock to this sanctuary too, some exceeding 36" in length. Like the Lingocd, Cabezon lay eggs in winter months (Cabezon eggs masses are purple), and the bold Cabezon thinks nothing about trying to chase off a diver that gets too close to its eggs, even though that diver may outweigh the Cabezon 20:1. In fact, one of my friends has been bitten by a protective Cabezon at this site (it didn't do him any harm, it just startled him). Lingcod also can get very protective when guarding their white egg masses. My advise is do not provoke these animals - respect their rights to raise their young in peace. Remember, we are visitors to their realm, and those visitation rights are a privilege, not a right.

Some of the largest Quillback and Copper Rockfish that I have ever seen call this site home too. With a little hunting, I can usually find rockfish in excess of 24" in length. However, Edmonds UWP is not all about Godzilla sized fish. Absolutely beautiful Plumose Anemones cover many of the structures, including the dry dock. Swimming through the rib system of the dry dock covered by gorgeous white and orange Plumose Anemones is quite a thrill, especially with large Cabezon and Lingcod darting out from under us as we swim over them. Pile Perch, Striped Seaperch, and Shiner Perch are always in great abundance. Searching through the kelp strewn bottom usually reveals thousands of shrimp, crabs, and occasional gunnels, and small sculpins (including Sailfins). Rock Soles, Buffalo Scuplins, and even occasional Red Irish Lords patrol the flats between man-made structures. Occasional Ratfish glide through the shallows of Edmonds, especially on night dives. Massive Sunflower Stars are common encounters as they dig relentlessly for a meal of clams. Recently, one of my dive buddies even found a Candy Stripe Shrimp silhouetted against a white Plumose Anemone.

The shallows in front of the beach area are comprised of a gently sloping sandy bottom. Especially in the summer months, this sandy area is infested with thick eel-grass where small fish, snails and crabs will often hang out. If you take your time and inspect the eel-grass carefully, there is no telling what you might find.

Although Edmonds is a great dive site, it does have it's dark side. First, it's popularity means that it is often overcrowded, especially on nice days. It is not uncommon to have 30 or more divers here at one time. Although the park is big, it is easy for "less than careful" divers to silt out other divers by egg-beating the bottom with their fins.

Another pitfall is the ferry landing to the immediate south of the park. In addition to the underwater noise, the ferry poses a real danger to divers. It is not too difficult, especially in poor vis, for a diver to get disoriented and end up swimming into the ferry lane. I have seen people getting arrested and losing their scuba gear to the authorities for unintentionally wondering into the ferry lane and holding up the ferry. Fortunately, I have not heard of anyone being killed by the ferry. Part of the problem here is that the old dry dock is located just to the north of the ferry. As the dry dock consists of iron, it can play havoc with a compass.

A final gotcha with this site is that is it shallow - reaching 40 fsw can take some effort. In fact, you have to swim about 75-100 yards to get to a depth of 20 fsw at high tide. The shallowness of this site often means that vis is not as good as other places in the sound, especially if there is heavy river run-off or a top layer plankton bloom - you just can not get deep enough to get under the crummy vis. This moderately sloping bottom and poor vis also makes navigation more difficult. As the bottom usually looks flat, it is hard to tell which way is "up-slope". I usually pay very close attention to the depth gauge and compass when diving here to make certain I am going in the right direction. A depth change of 3 fsw in a short distance is substantial at Edmonds. To help correct the tendency for disorientation, several volunteers have installed and maintain an underwater rope system. I believe the THICK ropes parallel shore, and the NARROW ropes run perpendicular to shore, but I could be wrong. Anyway, the ropes are helpful as they tend to lead you around from one "reef" to the next, and keep you way from the ferry channel. Sometimes the ropes are difficult to find as they are so overgrown with marine life.

All in all, Edmonds is an outstanding site. The lack of substantial currents, shallow depths, facilities, proximity to Seattle, and unique condition of the marine life make this site a real favorite amongst beginner divers. This site is worth doing from time to time just to see the freakish Lingcod. This site also is a great living testimony as to how well marine life can bounce back if given a chance.

Although I did much of my early cold-water diving here, I have kind of out-grown the site. However, every so often I can't resist the urge to do a night dive at Edmonds UWP when no one else is here and hangout with the Cabezon and Lingcod.

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