Goldfish Bowl
Author  : Dale and Kim Sheckler - December 02, 2010

Just the name--Goldfish Bowl--evokes a feeling of a fun and cute dive site. And it is. But there is a deeper, more advanced dive also here that a lot of people don't know about (more on that later).

Goldfish Bowl has long been and remains to this day a favorite site for many dive charter boats out of Ventura and Santa Barbara to drop in newbie divers. It is relatively shallow with calm, clear, life-filled waters and a beautiful kelp forest. Currents are generally mild and water clear.

The dive site gains its name from the numerous garibaldi that frequent this site. If you are not familiar to Southern California diving, the garibaldi is a bright orange fish that are easy to approach (they often approach you). Named after a 19th century Italian general that wore a bright orange vest into battle, the garibaldi is the California State Marine Fish and has been a protected species for nearly a half a century. 

Speaking of protection, Goldfish Bowl lies in a California State Marine Conservation area. The only animals that may be taken from here are lobster (in season) and pelagic finfish (yellowtail, tuna, etc.).
Anacapa Island

Goldfish Bowl is often designated as a cove toward the west end of west Anacapa Island (actually three small islands that run east to west), but many look at as just a general area near the west end of the island. The bottom topography along any of this area is similar no matter where you go--a moderate to gentle slope away from the island ending in jumbled boulders and course sand in about 40 to 45 feet of water, then a sloping sand bottom outward. The islands are SW of Oxnard, CA.

Don't touch the rock scallops, which are numerous in spots. Rock scallops gain their name from the fact that they, well, look like rocks. You can spot them by their bright orange "smile" on the rock (although sometimes it is a more muted brown/olive "smile"). Approach slowly before they slam shut and you can usually get in close enough for a good macro-photo of their bright orange mantle that, if you look closely, contains dozens of tiny eyes. 

Other favorite macro-photo subjects include small reef fish--painted greenlings, ghost gobies, island kelpfish, a variety of blennies and the occasional blue-banded goby providing a dash of bright color. In addition, there are Christmas tree worms, and, if you look close on the stalks of the red gorgonia, tiny simnia snails. Due to their size, and the fact that they blend so well with red gorgonia, simnias can be challenging to photograph. But persist, as they make for an excellent image.

The red gorgonia also provide for good wide-angle images. Its bright pink color against the muted blue-green background of the kelp forest can be dramatic. Throw in a few fish and a diver and you have achieved an excellent image. Another beautiful gorgonia to see here is the uncommon purple gorgonia. While not rare, you will not see more specimens than here at the west end of Anacapa Island. Their "branches" (actually an animal, not a plant) reach only about 12 inches, but you still have to get the photo for the beautiful color.

But you don't have to dive rarely touched reefs or grab bugs to enjoy Goldfish Bowl. Just head over to the island, plunk into the kelp want watch the "goldfish" swim by.

Being a protected area that includes reef fish you can expect to see larger and friendlier fish like the sheephead (the make for good photo material), fat calico bass, opaleye, halfmoons, and black perch. Occasionally, a large black sea bass will cruise through this area, usually in the summer and early fall. Unafraid of divers (protected not just here but in all California waters), they can reach five feet in length and several hundred pounds. Two other large fish here worth mentioning include halibut and bat rays on the sand near the reef.

Location: A general area around the last cove before the west end of the West Anacapa Island.

Access: Boat only. A short run from Ventura. Several dive charters operate from Ventura and Santa Barbara.
Skill level: All except more experienced on outer reef.
Snorkeling: Good next to island, especially in the cove.
Depths: to 45 feet near shore, 65 feet on outer reef
Visibility: Good, averages 40 feet but often better.
Hunting: Lobster and pelagic finfish only.
Photography: Very good for both macro and wide-angle.

Outward from this general area off the west end of the west island and about a mile offshore is another reef that few divers know about, talk about, or visit. This strip of deeper reefs peaks out at about 45 feet and then drops to the sand at about 65 feet. Currents are more of an issue here and, for some reason, the visibility is worse. So why dive here? First, the macro photo opportunities are better and second, lobster. While not a lot, there definitely are more here than at the inner reefs. Exact location? Cruise around out from Goldfish Bowl in about 65 feet of water with your depth finder and you'll find this large reef structure.


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