Scuba Diving the Channel Islands

by Brent Durand

She swam at me full speed before turning away in the graceful arc that only a sea lion can perform. I scrambled to turn on my camera and position strobes, but her second pass was too far away and she then swam off behind the reef. This was the second time I was buzzed by a sea lion after turning off my camera a few feet under the swim platform of the boat.

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As I climbed back on board the Raptor Dive Boat with the assistance of the friendly crew, I couldn’t help but reflect on the incredible scuba diving we experienced. Our group had made three different dives on three samples of Southern California’s unique underwater ecosystem. There is so much to see in Ventura County’s Channel Islands National Park, and even though we were hiding from a bit of northwest swell we got to see exactly why this is one of the dive destinations in the world.

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Our first dive at Anacapa Island toured a site called Goldfish Bowl, and it’s easy to see how it earned the name. Rock structure pops from the sand all over the site, like a child’s game of marbles left unattended. Around this structure are bright orange Garibaldi fish, schools of opaleye, lobsters, chestnut cowries and at the end of the dive, my first sea lion sighting of the day.

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Dive two brought us to Coral Reef, an area with three different dive sites marked by dense kelp canopies. California’s giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, is actually an alga that can grow up to 2ft per day! Swimming through the kelp forest is like walking through a forest made of stained glass windows; the light rays flicker through the kelp swaying ever so slightly back and forth while fish stare from all sides. On my dive I found a seemingly endless school of blacksmith calmly staring into the current, and the occasional school of yellow senioritas on the move.

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Moving the Raptor further East on Anacapa, we hopped in the water for our final dive at Fish Camp, which is a protected anchorage that fishermen use when they are at the island in rough weather. Upon descending to the dive site, the ground appears to be moving in every psychedelic color of the rainbow. This is a bristlestar bed, where tens of thousands of bristlestars have chosen to make their home across the sand and reef structure. Also present are a variety of sea hares, purple urchins, patches of strawberry anemones and of course, another sea lion.

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I smiled thinking about that last buzz by the sea lion. I absolutely missed the shot… both times, but I guess that means I’ll need to dive the Channel Islands again ASAP. I can’t wait!

Special thanks to Visit Ventura and the entire crew of Raptor Dive Charters.

 

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