A favorite local dive site in Midcoast Maine is Rachel Carson Salt Pond, just out of New Harbor. It is part of the Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve, a 78-acre parcel of land mostly on the north side of Route 32 on the way to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.

The pond and preserve were named for famous conservationist Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book about pesticide use entitled Silent Spring, helped prompt a ban on use of DDT. But Carson’s connection with Maine went farther back. In 1953, she built a summer cottage on the Maine coast at Southport Island. She was a co-founder of the Nature Conservancy of Maine. After her death in 1964, her ashes were scattered along Cape Newagen at Southport.

As a marine biologist, Carson often visited an intertidal shoreline on Route 32, just outside of New Harbor, where a salt pond appears at low tide. Taking samples and recording her findings, she often sat through entire tidal cycles. Her studies formed a good portion of her third book, 1955’s The Edge of the Sea.

As an intertidal shoreline, the pond disappears at high tide, only to re-emerge at low. At extreme low tide, the salt pond is a quarter acre in size. It was donated in 1966 to the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy by sisters Helen Williams, Elizabeth Gardner and Anne Hinners, and then dedicated to Rachel Carson in 1970.

Coming down Route 1 from the Belfast area, I hang a left shortly after Moody’s Diner onto Route 32. The drive is a pleasant tour through typical Midcoast scenery, down through Bremen around Webber Pond, then through Muscongus and Round Pond then Chamberlain.

At the pond, there is parking along the shore side of Route 32, but one still needs to be alert about traffic as you gear up on the side of the road. Access to the cobble beach is along a row of trees and rose-bayberry shrubs, which partially screen the view of the pond. A few granite steps and an iron railing help you down to the cobble beach.

Rachel Carson wrote of periwinkles at the pond. There are three species: the rough (Littorina saxatalis), common (Littorina littorina) and smooth (Littorina obtusata). Roughs live on the highest driest rocks, commons are only underwater at high tide and smooths stay completely submerged.

Preying on them are carnivorous snails called Dogwinkles (Thais lapillus). They are there in profusion also and worth a looksee in and of themselves. My last dive there, a woman was filling buckets full of every kind of winkle, both peri- and dog-. After a seven minute boil with a little salt, they make a tasty treat, easily removed from their shell with a toothpick and dipped in garlic butter.

Rachel Carson Salt Pond is interesting, especially these periwinkles and dogwinkles, but scuba divers tend to arrive after the place has slowly refilled with the incoming tide. Divers use the pond as a gateway to the area just beyond, a dive location that is one of the prettier dive sites in the entire Midcoast Maine region.

We usually travel the 1.5-hour trip down from Penobscot Bay and meet divers coming up from Portland, it is that much of a desired dive destination for divers from around the state. Others come from Bangor and Ellsworth; one diver who joined us came from New Hampshire.

Why the interest? The dive site offers a little bit of everything. It involves a series of shelves that descend downward like a grand staircase to a depth of about 85 fsw (feet of sea water), which leads to a sandy/mud bottom. Abundant marine life can be found on every ‘step’ so divers can go as deep or stay as shallow as they want, neither choice disappoints.

To enter, you work your way out along the right side of the pond, so as to avoid the rocks which form its outer perimeter. These are seaweed covered and barely underwater even at high tide, making them difficult to traverse especially at the end of a dive.

In fact, my last dive there, we exited over those rocks rather than back through the more open end on the far side. It was not pretty as we emerged in an ungainly manner crawling, slipping and sliding (all with wet, heavy gear) while being bashed by waves and surge. Easy to take a digger. So stay to the right of the pond for both entry AND exit!

Once beyond the pond, a chunk of land juts out to your right appropriately called Salt Pond Point. From there, you can either continue towards the point or work your way North-North-East roughly parallel to shore.

Conditions can be tough, one dive we encountered a strong surge in which we had to fight our way out to the steps. We had to literally pull ourselves along by rocks on the bottom, while the sea pushed us back and forth. It was not a fun dive getting battered about like that, so we thumbed it early. On another visit, we surfaced near the point and found waves and surge almost too much, pushing us closer to the rocks.

Yet another time, we surfaced to find ourselves in a long shore current. That is where the ocean moves parallel to shore, usually caused by ocean swells coming towards the shoreline at an angle. This tends to move or push water along the shore. It was moving us in a North-North-East direction, when we really wanted to work our way back to the pond to South-South-West.

But the occasional challenging conditions are worth it, because the marine life you can see is just incredible. Lobsters and crabs proliferate, as do sea stars and fish. Lots of flora too. But the best sighting I think is the sea anemone. In fact, every time we dive there and are joined by a particular dive buddy who comes up from Portland, we head for Anemone-ville.

That is because his (and our) major goal is to hopefully find and photograph a Northern Red Anemone. The Northern Red (Urticina felina) is a large and hardy anemone, with 100 thick tentacles in multiple rings around its mouth. It catches small objects with vertical rows of suckers on its soft, wide column, which is flexible and can change shape. Northern Reds feed on small fish, urchins, and crabs.

They can be found shallow or as deep as 100 feet, the larger-sized ones we encounter at Rachel Carson Salt Pond tend to be found deeper, usually 60-80 fsw range. Sometimes their tentacles are retracted for protection, so you need to approach them carefully in order to get a good photo. Their color is variable and can be yellow, red, orange and/or white, occasionally these colors are combined.

On my last dive there this November, we encountered a slew of Northern Reds. It seemed every time I turned around, there was one more looking to get photographed. All kinds of colors and sizes, they were spectacular! So even though we exited over the seaweed covered rocks and I took the occasional digger, I still emerged with a smile on my face from such a great dive.

Rachel Carson Salt Pond dive site has everything a diver could want including good parking, easy access to the beach, easy entry and exit (if you do it right), and plenty of marine life. It is a large, sprawling dive site with multiple options depending on what your dive plan is and what you want to do. Weather and water conditions are always factors; dives should be planned accordingly.

One can easily see what drew Rachel Carson to the area. Like the title of her book about it, Rachel Carson Salt Pond is truly the edge of the sea.