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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

Shark River - Belmar / Avon NJ

NJ Coast Chart

Shark River - Looking back from the end of the south jetty
Looking back from the end of the south jetty.

The Shark River is your best bet for shore diving in the northern half of the New Jersey coastline, far better than the Manasquan River. Shark River offers at least four different locations to dive: either side of the inlet, with rock jetties to explore, slightly upstream at A Street in Belmar, and upriver in the back bay area at L Street, Belmar. The wreck of the Malta is also just a few blocks south on the beach, but hardly worth diving.


These restrictions are clearly posted on both sides of the inlet; also see Regulations. Since this is a tidal river, you must dive at slack water. If you've never dived a local river or inlet before, you may want to look at the page on Local Diving Conditions.

Shark River Estuary
Shark River Estuary

Why is it called the Shark River?

I have dived this inlet many times, and have never seen even a small shark, although I have been told that they can be seen on occasion from high up on the bridge. Apparently, in the late 1800's a large shark was swept upstream into the bay, where it died. Or the river could be named after the fossilized shark teeth that can be sifted from the sand upstream in Shark River Park. The original Indian name for the river was Nollectquest, the actual meaning of which has been lost to time.

Shark River Rules

Shark River Inlet - Ocean Ave

Shark River Aerial
Low tide, winter. Beach replenishment has all but filled in the "L".

smallish tidal river inlet with stone jetties or bulkheads on both sides
30 ft, more than that and you are probably in the boat channel

This inlet has an L-shaped jetty on the north side, and a longer straight jetty on the south side. Both jetties are made of loose stones - hardly any concrete - and the bottom is sandy and usually clean. You can walk over the bridge from one side of the inlet to the other in about five minutes.

BarnaclesThe north side has an easy giant-stride entry into deep water under the bridge, and small rocks to climb out on. For this reason it is often overrun with O/W students. The south side has a more difficult climb down or up the rocks. Don't do a stride off the concrete wall - you could be impaled on sharp rusty rebar. On both sides it is possible to climb up the rocks almost anywhere in a pinch, although it may not be easy.

If you get in early, you can ride the current upstream, and then back to your starting point when it reverses. If you are late, you can ride the current out past the end and swim around to the beach, although obviously this will mean slogging across the sand.

The south side is more interesting than the north side. Around the bridge and for quite a ways upstream, there is a steep rocky slope below the large jetty stones, down to almost 30 feet. This can harbor all kinds of small creatures, and gets covered with a riot of colors by fall. I have seen this area in bright sunny clear conditions, and would compare it to a Caribbean wall dive, but days like that are rare.There are also deep spots under the bridge where larger fishes may congregate.

By comparison, on the north side the jetty stones meet the sandy bottom directly, except where they are replaced by bulkhead upsteam. Directly under the north side of the bridge used to be quite a bit of rubble and debris that could be searched-over, but most of it has been removed by misguided river clean-ups, leaving a much more barren environment. Downstream from the bridge, both sides are pretty much the same - big rocks meeting a sandy bottom; the north side might be a little better for lobsters.

Shark River - north side, middling tide
North side, middling tide. Under the bridge - the easiest entry and exit.

Shark River - north side, middling tide
Same site, view from above.

This is my favorite shore dive. The river is generally clean and the visibility is decent. Early in the season you can catch quite a few lobsters here, but it seems to tail off as the water warms, and by mid to late July it is over. There are also crabs, smallish fluke in the sand, eels, small Blackfish, the ever-present cunners, tropicals late in the season, and all the free fishing sinkers you could want.

Parking is free in Avon on the north side, metered in Belmar on the south, and can be hard to find close by. Either way, you will have to hike a short ways with your gear to get to the water. There is a 7-11 store not far south of the bridge where you can get ice, etc; and there are showers on the north side.

See Restrictions at the top of this page.

Shark River jetties
Another view of the jetties and bridge.

Looking up from under the bridge.

Shark River - south side
The south side of the inlet.

Inlet Inhabitants

By Herb Segars

A starfish travels over a piece of rusting metal on the inlet bottom.

Shark River Inlet in Avon, New Jersey, is used by boaters to reach the Atlantic, by fishermen to obtain a fresh dinner and by scuba divers to explore a new and exciting world. People who stroll the beaches and boardwalks are awed by the inlet's beautiful panorama. Hidden beneath the surface of the water, however, is another world, a world foreign to the majority of surface dwellers. In this undersea world of everyday conflict, the weak and wounded soon become part of the food chain.

Herb SegarsThis particular inlet is divided into three distinct habitats. Mussel beds, located directly beneath the Ocean Avenue bridge, stretch from the shoreline to the center channel pilings. Here, myriad sea creatures conduct everyday business. The mussel is a picture of beauty as It extends its mantle to feed on microscopic life carried In the current. Nestled between the mussels are tiny sea anemones, whose tentacles sway gently in search of the very same minuscule morsels. Multi-armed starfish use their tiny tubular feet to move from place to place. Grotesquely fashioned, but camouflaged to near invisibility, sea sculpins perch on the mussel beds awaiting their prey.

Projecting seaward through the inlet, man-made jetties of rock provide a second type of habitat for numerous aquatic species. Scooting in and out of openings in the rocks are blackfish and many baitfish. Smaller holes provide homes for eels and the nocturnal-feeding lobster. Although most people do not associate the lobster with New Jersey waters, lobsters are harvested in this area by commercial lobstermen and sport divers. Colonies of mussels, barnacles and plant life are also found on the jetties, where they spend their entire life cycle maintaining a foothold on the slippery surface.

Green Crab on a mussel bed
A Green Crab on a mussel bed.

The last area of exploration is the sandy flats, where two species predominate. Pancake-shaped members of the fluke and flounder family lie motionless on the bottom, camouflaged by their natural coloring. patiently awaiting their dinner. Unfortunately for them and happily for fishermen, they are often fooled by the baited hook. Shortly thereafter, they will fulfill their destiny In nature's food chain as someone else's dinner.

Suitably garbed for an outer space encounter or a round of battle in the Coliseum, the crabs are the true gladiators of the inlet. Equipped with extremely sharp and powerful claws, their first reaction to a human intruder is to rear up and defend their ground. They defend themselves from other sub sea inhabitants with equal tenacity. The sand flats are home to rock crabs, blue claw crabs, speckled crabs and hermit crabs.

These are just a few of the many inhabitants of our local inlets, where beneath the murky water, life is an awe-inspiring spectacle.

Sea Anemone on mussels
A Sea Anemone on mussels on the rock jetty.

A lobster showing his weapons.

Lady Crab
A speckled Lady Crab displays its beautiful coloration.

This article first appeared in New Jersey Outdoors - July / August 1984

Shark River - A Street

Shark River - A Street
View of the up-river area, looking southeast. Either side is diveable
upstream to the first road. Arrow marks A Street entry location.

smallish tidal river inlet with stone jetties or bulkheads on both sides
15 ft

Shark River - A Street

Red WeedYet another place to dive the Shark River is on the south side, near the intersection of 1st Avenue andA Street, behind the apartments. There is limited but very convenient free parking. A small cement stairway leads down to a concrete ledge above the water. Climb down between the big rock and the bulkhead, where you will find more steps underwater. ( Whoever B.M and M.M. are - thank you ! )

The bottom here is much like the rest of the river - sand and mussels. The rocks in this sunny spot are covered with orange sponges, red and green seaweeds, and anemones - very pretty. Depths are in the 10-15 foot range, although you may want to stay higher where the light and colors are better. The rocks are large and not closely packed, so you can swim in and around them. Tropical fish seem to favor this spot.

The bulkhead is not very interesting, which is ok because you are not supposed to go that way anyway. The topside ledge at the water's edge goes almost all the way to the bridge, and is quite walk able and not too bad a climb out of the water, so that you could ride the tide downstream and then climb out and hike back.

As of 2006, mussels have completely overgrown the bottom at this site, and only small patches of sand can be found between the rocks.

See Restrictions at the top of this page.

Shark River Back Bay - Maclearie Park

Shark River Bay Aerial
The new steps are just off the top edge of the photo, past the tennis courts.

inland tidal bay
20 ft max, 15 ft in most places

Shark River Bay Steps
Thank you, Belmar

This dive site, formerly known as 'L Street' has changed completely, and for the better. The town of Belmar has done something really nice for us divers and installed wide wooden steps down the bulkhead in Maclearie Park. This more than makes up for the loss of the boat ramp area, which is off-limits to all swimmers since it was rebuilt. I suppose the little cove by the ramp is still accessible from the beach, but the new site is much better, and far from all the dangerous boat traffic around the ramp and marina.

The new steps are just west of the tennis courts. There is ample parking, with a short walk to sturdy picnic tables under shady trees that you can use to gear up, just like Dutch Springs. There are barbecue grills, trash cans, a boardwalk and playground, and restrooms and showers not far off, although these are not guaranteed to be open. So you can make a nice outing of it, with non-divers even. At the steps are 4 dock lockers that you can put your own padlock on. The dock flies dive flags, and at night it has a blinking yellow light. The only down side is that it is a rather long swim if you want to go inspect the pilings around the sailboat and fishing docks.

Shark River Bay Park

Shark River Bay Park
Maclearie Park, off Route 35 in Belmar

The red mark indicates the approximate location of the new steps. For scale, the length of a tennis court with overruns ( fence-to-fence ) is 40 yards. The docks and cove are at the extreme right, approximately 275 yards to the east. The total length of the bulkhead corner-to-corner is approximately 450 yards. Traffic in the parking lot is one-way, west to east. The remainder of this description is from the old days when you dove around the boat ramp, but everything basically still applies:

The back bay at Shark River is a fine shallow dive, and a good way to salvage a day when the weather prevents diving in the inlet or the ocean. The bottom here is silty mud, and easily stirred up. For this reason, it is best to miss the tide slightly rather than dive right on it. This way there will be a gentle current to carry away whatever mess you make. When the tide does start to run, the water just slowly ebbs away, unlike the Railroad Bridge, where things can get crazy and even dangerous pretty fast if your timing is off.

One thing to watch for when diving this site is the wind. A north or west wind will quickly fill this shoreline with all the seaweed and garbage in the bay. This makes for poor visibility and a nasty disgusting mess during entry and exit. A south or east wind will do the opposite, and blow all the junk to the far side of the bay. Coincidentally, an east wind is most likely to cause your boat trip to be cancelled, which makes the Shark River bay the perfect backup dive plan. However, if the wind has been blowing from the wrong direction for several days, then this site is best avoided; try the inlet or the Railroad Bridge instead, where the current will scour away any accumulated mess.

Much of this area is only five feet deep, going down to about 14 feet at high tide. This makes for a great deal of ambient light during the day, and there are no time exclusions here as there are at the inlet. Together with sometimes startlingly clear water, this makes for a good spot to play with a camera, even one of those little waterproof disposable pool cameras. You will find plenty to photograph. Later in the season, what wood remains is overgrown with many colors of sponge, anemones and algae - red, pink, orange, purple, green, brown. Flounders from tiny one inch babies up to doormats, prehistoric Horseshoe Crabs, and many other crabs, urchins, starfish, mussels, clams, jellyfishes, baifish, baby cunners and Sea Bass, Butterflyfishes ( in season ) and eels are all to be found here.

Blue Clawed crab
An angry Blue Clawed crab ( they're born that way. )

Expect visibility in the 10 ft range, with negligible current and wave action. Boat traffic may be a problem, so be sure to have a flag. Many of these boaters are renters from the marina next door, and the worst sort of idiots who will drive right up to your flag just to see what it is, so if you do hear an outboard whirring overhead, stick below it on the bottom until it goes away. Also, try to stay away from the fishermen by the boat ramp.

My sole experience night-diving this site was a disappointment, although a rather unique one: A blizzard of tiny shrimp-like swimming crustaceans, attracted to my dive light, formed my own personal white-out whenever I stopped moving, quickly reducing the viz to near zero. Not really dangerous, but nearly impossible to get anything done.

There are no time restrictions for diving at this site that I am aware of. Since this is a tidal river, you should dive at slack water. Also, given the shallowness, a high tide is essential. If you've never dived a local river or inlet before, you may want to look at the page on Local Diving Conditions. This site is used regularly for training dives and classes by the local dive shops.

Urchins and sponges
Urchins and sponges

Horseshoe Crabs
Horseshoe Crabs

Hermit Crabs covered with hydroids
Hermit Crabs covered with hydroids.

Windowpane Flounder
Windowpane Flounder

incurrent and exhaust siphons of a clam
The incurrent and exhaust siphons of a clam in a muddy bottom ...

... and their owner, a Quahog Mercenaria mercenaria, next to the hole he was dug out of.

American Eel
American Eel below a cloud of tiny shrimps

American Eel
Another eel hiding in a clump of filamentous algae. Note the bulldog jaw.

Looking down at one of the new pilings
Looking down at one of the new pilings, with a Comb Jelly and a Spider Crab. The tangle of Ulva weed around the base of the piling is typical, and shelters many baby fishes.

green and brown algae
A garden of green and brown algae grows on a shallow rock near the boat ramp

Horseshoe Crab


NJ Coast Chart

Shipwreck Malta
The whole aft part of the ship was demolished by the waves,
leaving just the stern post ( see below. )

iron-hulled steamer, converted to sail
( 244 x 40 ft ) 1600 displacement tons, 24 crew
Saturday November 24, 1885
ran aground in bad weather - 1 casualty
20 ft

The remains of the Malta are low scattered debris, 100 yards offshore in Belmar. Given the amount of beach replenishment that has taken place, and the fact that the remains of this wreck are pretty small, I would not expect to find much.

Shipwreck Malta stern post
The sternpost of the Malta juts from the surf at low tide off 9th Avenue.
There is more small wreckage below, but hardly worth a dive. Note surfer for scale.

Shipwreck Malta mast
Probably the largest remaining piece of the Malta is her
iron foremast, planted in the sidewalk near the 7-11
at 8th Avenue. Hidden in plain sight.

The old mast is actually a standpipe for the sewage system !

see restrictions for Shark River Inlet

* I hope it is buried, the government sure spends enough of our taxes on this !



I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted



since 2016-09-11