Santa Cruz - October 12, 2010
: Dale and Kim
Island is a special place in the Southern California ocean.
It is a place of transition. Currents mix, converge and collide here in
different ways depending on the season and climatic shifts. What you
find at Santa Cruz Island is a mixture of temperate and cold water
species of fish and invertebrates. This is the sampler platter of
California's underwater world. Here you see bright orange garibaldi
typical to southern warmer waters alongside bright white-spotted rose
anemones that you usually only see in waters further to the west and
north. Perhaps no more is this mixing pronounced than at Morse Point on
the backside of Santa Cruz Island.
system is easy to find; just look for the huge kelp forest to
the northwest of Gull Island. This is an extensive reef area and would
take dozens of dives just get a sampling of the bottom terrain. An
experienced dive charter boat captain will put you on the best areas
that have pinnacles, mini-walls and canyons to explore. The reef
extends from the shore out to about 70 feet, but the shallows are
usually too surgy to explore and the better diving is from about 35
feet and deeper.
kelp is thick in spots, there are numerous channels through
which the diver can easily pass. Just remember your kelp diving
techniques -- leave enough air in you tank to return under the kelp
canopy and, if necessary, crawl across the top of the kelp canopy, face
down with your snorkel in your mouth, and use your arms to push the
kelp down in front of you.
forest and reef support a tremendous amount of life. I
especially enjoyed the fish life here. Trying to blend right in with
its body that imitates a kelp leaf is the kelpfish. Brightly colored
baby sheephead are common in the late summer and fall. Big mama and
daddy sheephead are common, too. Another fat fish here is the calico
bass. Rockfish seem to be everywhere. And on my last dive here a big
torpedo ray showed up, leisurely cruising across the bottom through the
kelp stalks. Head off to where the sand meets the reef and you are
likely to see a bat ray.
to the convergence and mixing of currents, the
proliferation of life is due in part to the fact that this area has now
been a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for over seven years. This is yet
another example that MPAs work.
Not only are the fish protected
but also so are the invertebrates. Slow
to recruit and grow, rock scallops have begun to return here. Lobsters
are numerous and some are quite large. Protected even longer, before
the MPA, are the abalone and if you look carefully under some ledges
you may spot a pink abalone or two.
invertebrates decorating this reef include big growths of
gorgonian sea fans, the occasional brightly colored nudibranch, and sea
stars, some quite large. Here you start to see the large
gray/purple/blue sunstar generally reserved for cooler waters. On my
last dive here I saw one that was nearly three feet across.
Diving close by Gull Island is
special treat. The nearby big brother
reef at Gull Island often overshadows Morse Point. The dive charter
boats will frequently head to Gull Island first for a deeper dive and,
if you are lucky, they will make a second dive at nearby Morse Point
for a shallower dive. If the skipper does, thank them as your dive will
be a memorable one.
|Location: Backside of Santa Cruz Island in the
California Channel Islands chain. It is marked on most charts. GPS:
N33°57.805', W119°50.963' (do not use GPS as your sole source
Access: Boat only, professional dive charter boats
Skill Level: All
Depths: 30 to 70 feet.
Visibility: Good, averages 40 feet.
Photography: Very good with multiple subjects for macro
and excellent wide-angle scenes in the think, lush kelp.
Hunting: None. This is a Marine Protected Area.
Hazards: Thick kelp. Some currents