Admiring Anacapa Island’s Coral Pinnacle

As the boat motored around to the seaward side of the West Island of Anacapa, I asked a fellow passenger if he heard the crew mention what dive site we were going to dive next. “Coral something or another,” he replied. Cool. I love diving the site known as Coral Reef for its many colorful invertebrates. But as the charter boat Vision’s skipper began to anchor, it looked to me like he was setting up too far from shore.

 
The dive briefing clarified my concern, as I quickly learned the dive site was called Coral Pinnacle. In my hundreds of dives at this island, dozens of which were on nearby Coral Reef, I never even knew this spot existed. We were anchored alongside a 65-foot pinnacle that dropped off vertically on nearly all sides. The current was strong, but the trade-off was excellent visibility; from a depth of 50 feet I could clearly see the sandy bottom 130 below.
I ducked out of the current near a small shelf at about 80 feet to rest for a moment and take in the underwater scenery. Wow. The walls exploded with color, as corynactis anemones blanketed the pinnacle in shades of lavender, pink, red, and purple. 
A variety of critters occupied every crevice. One diver saw four morays on our dive. Look for crabs that inhabit some of the cracks. With a careful eye you might spot a blue-ring top snail (Calliostoma annulatum). Their jewel-like shell of gold with purple stripes is absolutely stunning but can easily get lost in the bright color of the anemone blanket, so look closely. They are absolute eye candy and fodder for the macro camera. If you find one bigger than a pea you are lucky. On this dive I was lucky. I found one out in the open, perfectly posed, and about the size of a shelled almond. With a yellow-orange mantle out and crawling it appeared to be looking right at me when I composed a photo.
Contrary to the name, Coral Pinnacle, there is no hard coral here. But it is the beautiful color of this spot that gives the location its name. All California divers know, or should know, there are no hard corals in California waters. Even the stunning purple and pink hydrocoral is not a true coral (sorry, none here). There are, however, three “sort-of” exceptions, which can be found here. Clumps of pink colonial cup coral (Pachycerianthus fimbriatus) can be seen on the rock faces and under ledges. It also is not a true hard coral but pretty to look at just the same. Polyps are about the size of the tip of your little finger and the clumps vary in size from that of a golf ball to an aggregation as big as your hand. Colonial coral is by no means rare but is unusual and generally located in areas of strong currents. In contrast orange cup coral (Balanophyllia elegans) are very common and populate nearly all reefs from Central California southward. They are solitary animals and add bright orange dots to any reef. Remarkably, there are only a few here, probably due to competition for space. And then there is our soft coral gorgonian. At this pinnacle you will find mostly the dramatic red gorgonian that appears pink, with white polyps extended.
Most of the marine life here benefits from strong currents that serve as the lunch truck, delivering nutrients. The anemones, aggregating and orange cup corals, and gorgonians feed this way. I was expecting to see an abundance of scallops here, but found almost none. 
On my ascent I gazed to the west and spotted yet another pinnacle that appeared to peak at about 80 feet of depth. I asked the skipper about it and he said there were a number of additional pinnacles in the immediate area. Sure enough, two days later, he put us right on top of another nice dive site. It’s always fun to return to a familiar area and discover that it has more to offer.
Special thanks to Truth Aquatics’ dive charter boat Vision and their crew for their assistance with this article.
At-A-Glance 
Location: Seaward side of the West Island of Anacapa Island. N34°00.358′, W119° 26.136′. Good depth finder and preferably an excellent skipper are needed to find and anchor.
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced due to depths and frequent strong currents.
Diving depths: 65 to 130 feet.
Visibility: Very good to excellent, averaging 50 feet or better.
Access: Boat only. Several dive charter boat operations out of Ventura. Truth Aquatics fleet departs from Santa Barbara. Private boat ramps in Channel Islands, Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors.
Conditions: Strong current common.
Hunting: Poor. No scallops and few lobster deep.
Photography: Very good for wide-angle shots along colorful walls, macro excellent with lots of critters amongst colorful overgrowth.
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