Maury Island Barges

Date Reviewed:October 2002
Location:East Maury Island, South Puget Sound
Access:Boat dive
Site Description:Pilings, barges, rock piles, and a sunken pleasure boat.
Main Attraction:Three heavily decomposed barges

This site has been on my "ho-hum" dive list for a couple of years now. I usually only dive here after a first dive at KVI and my dive partner insists on a different location as a second dive site. I prefer to do two dives at KVI, which always offers us brilliant color, ample marine life, varying depth (the reef runs from 30 to 120 fsw), and fun, natural looking (although it is an artificial reef) structure to explore. Because of my bias, I have done almost 30 dives at KVI and only 5 at "the barges" to date.

What has discouraged me from diving this site more is a couple of things. First, the color here seems to be much more bland than KVI. KVI offers white barnacle incrusted rocks and concrete columns, colonized by magnificent orange, yellowish-green, and white Plumose Anemones. Three species of rockfish and brilliantly colored perch are always easily found buzzing around the reef. Maury Island Barges, on the other hand, offers much more drab coloration, especially on the barges. What do you expect from decomposing wood?

Second, the last three times I have been here, vis...well...SUCKED. If we would get 20 feet of vis at KVI at depth, we might only get 10 feet at Maury Island, and even worse in the shallows. The main reason is that most of the structure at this site appears to be relatively shallow (less than 60 fsw), and when the plankton is in bloom, we simply cannot get under the plankton layer. At KVI, we can easily get down to 90 fsw to get under the yucky vis, and still have plenty of structure to explore.

Contributing to the sub par vis might be the fact that this is one of the more popular boat dive locations in Central Puget Sound. As the depths are relatively shallow, anchorage is easy, and the currents don't rip through this site even off slack, it is a relatively safe boat dive for most levels of PNW divers. I often see charters here, and know that the limited structure is going to get silted out very quickly once the 12 divers on the charter boat hit the water.

So, for some time now I have been totally uninspired to write up a review for this site...until this weekend.

On a foggy October morning, we headed out to KVI. The water was literally like glass for the entire 7 mile run from Redondo. After a very nice dive at KVI, one of the divers said those words that make me cringe "Hey, lets do our second dive at the barges". Trying to get myself up for this dive, I thought this time would be would be different. We had just been spoiled by +40 feet of vis at KVI. Maybe, just maybe I would get to see Maury Island Barges in all it's glory. If not, no one would hear me cuss into my reg anyway...OK. Lets go for it.

We zipped through the fog (vis was about a quarter mile), and thanks to our GPS found "the barges." The site is easily found on a clear day, as it was formerly a loading dock for a gravel quarry that was used when building the runways at SeaTac airport. The pilings that hold up the conveyor and dolphins that the barges used to moor against are still in place, although look as if they could use some work.

To be a little more specific, the site is located on the east side of Maury Island, about half way down (about 8 miles south of KVI Tower). The easiest way to find this site is to look for the big notch cut into east side of Maury Island, marking the old quarry. Under this notch, you will find and old, abandoned conveyor system and pilings. If you look simply for an old derelict pier, you will actually find several as you head south along Maury Island. I believe "the barges" site is the third such rickety old pier from the north. The correct "old pier" has a prominent looking conveyor system running perpendicular to the shore and large dolphins running almost north-south parallel to the shore.

As usual, we anchor between the dolphins and the shore on the south side of the conveyor. There is a nice sandy shelf up here, and the water is relatively shallow. We usually throw the anchor over the side in about 20 fsw. Then it's suit up, take a good compass bearing along the pilings, swim out to the southern most piling, and down we go.

On this dive, I knew we were in for a treat as I could see 25 feet down the piling from the surface. On my previous three dives here, I was lucky to see 5 feet (no exaggeration, and the key word is "lucky"). From the surface I could easily see Pile and Shiner Perch swirling around the pilings, and beautiful anemones clinging to the vertical structures.

After descending the piling and taking in all the little crabs, anemones, seastars, sculpins, and critters that call it home, we finally reached the bottom. To the east, the bottom broke away quickly, but I could see the shadows of parts of a barge looming above the silty substrate. The first part of the barge was massive, but relatively flat and featureless, with a few small rockfish, sea stars, anemones, and greenlings hanging about in the limited cover. However, soon we reached the heavily deteriorated parts of the barge - very rugged indeed, with metal fixtures sticking up through piles of collapsed and decomposing wood.

With vis approaching 40 feet, it was a beautiful scene. Looking thought he ragged structure backlit by sunlight from the surface created a beautiful portrait. Like a massive silver cloud, a huge school of thousands of Shiner Perch was hovering on the wrecks. I slowly approached the school, and let them engulf me. In the midst of the school, Striped Seaperch and Pile Perch were conducting their mating rituals, with some of the Pile Perch acting very territorial to fish of like species.

After cruising the tops of the old decaying barges, I spent some time inspecting the sides of the barges. Here is where I found numerous small Lingcod, Red Irish Lords, Buffalo Sculpins, Tidepool Sculpins, Painted Greenling, Brown and Copper Rockfish, gunnels, more gunnels, a HUGE warbonnet (~12inches long), and a small octopus, which spent a few minutes checking me out with a hand shake and jetting off.

The barges are very decomposed. I believe there might be three barges here, however, it is next to impossible to tell where one stops and another starts. We are always wary of the countless old rusty metal nails, snags, and spikes on these barges, any one of which can puncture a suit, sang some lose gear, or worse.

After a good 25 minutes inspecting the barges (which must span close to a hundred yards), I swam into the light current to the north. Maybe 25-30 yards from the barges we ran into an old sunken pleasure boat - well stripped, but standing none-the less.

After a few minutes circling the boat, I swam off to the north again against the light current. After maybe another 75 yards, I saw the edge of the "ballast pile" in the distance. The ballast pile is just that - it field of small rocks that were used as ballast at one time on barges. Littered in amongst these small rocks are some very large rocks and boulder, which offer some excellent habitat for some of the more prestigious PNW marine creature. On this dive, we found a large Giant Pacific Octopus hiding in one of the many dens under a large rock, and a small juvenile Wolf-eel. Look for the tell-tale signs of discarded crab shells at the entrance of Giant Pacific Octopus dens. Also prominent in the area are Lingcod, rockfish, greenling, more perch, and gunnels that appear to be everywhere. We also had a Dogfish and Ratfish visit us briefly on this dive. Sunflower Stars, Morning Stars, Sun Stars, Ochre Stars, and Pink Short Spined Stars added more color to the substrate, as did a few beautiful, large sand anemones.

After a good 25 minutes of checking things out at the ballast pile, it was time to start leisurely heading back - this time swimming with the mild current making the return trip very easy. For a safety stop, I swam back up the shelf and spent about 10 minutes by a patch of eel grass in 17 fsw, watching the Rock Sole prominently swim about, and even more Pile Perch conducting courting rituals. Then, the dive was over, and for the first time in five dives here, I was sad that it was. Good vis just rocks. I love October diving!

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