While bureaucrats argue where the future of marine preserves are in Southern California, there are a few jewels of preserves here and there that have existed for many years as shining examples of just how important these areas can be. The crown jewel at Catalina Island has to be the preserve at Blue Cavern Point.
Sheephead and calico bass are fat and sassy, approaching divers without fear. I especially like the big male sheephead with their bulbous heads and pronounced jaw and big teeth. Huge schools of fish cruise the thin kelp line. Lobsters are abundant. The stands of gorgonia are spectacular. And this is one of the few places left on Catalina where you will see multiple abalone on most dives. This is one of the most picturesque dives of all Southern California and few people ever experience it.
Protected for many years, this is one of the strictest preserves in all of Southern California. Nothing can be taken or disturbed, not even a sea shell or a rock. Even anchoring is not allowed. The preserve is well patrolled and enforced and respected among local divers, sport fishers, boaters and dive charter operators. As such, the diving is absolutely pristine (albeit difficult). To dive here is a real treat and privilege.
The difficult logistics of diving here is keeping the diver traffic to a minimum. In addition to the restriction against anchoring, current is nearly a constant. While the reserve extends only a short distance from shore, the water drops off very rapidly and deeply, making anchorage outside the reserve difficult if not impossible. There are only two boating options here: anchor just outside the extreme northeast end of the reserve and swim in (a beautiful dive, but you’ll miss much of the area) or drift dive the location with a live boat. The latter, while difficult, is the preferred method. It takes an expert boat operator and divers experienced in methods of live-boat drift diving. A few dive charter boat operators will attempt it; most private boat operators should avoid it.
The bottom profile is a steep drop off with mini-walls and caves. There are several caves at the surface that are fun to explore in small skiff, but of main interest to divers are the underwater caves. About in the middle of the preserve is a wall that drops from 30 feet to about 75. It is along that wall you find spectacular caves with hanging gornonians. Bring a light to look inside.
Along the rest of the preserve the bottom drops of steeply to well over safe diving depths. There is a thin kelp line near the bluff. On the outer fringes it is not unusual to see a passing giant black sea bass and schools of yellowtail. Along the sloped bottom look for bat and torpedo rays and occasionally leopard sharks.
Big Fisherman’s Cove is just around the corner to the west-southwest. This is home to not only the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber but the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center. This is a location for exhaustive marine studies and the preserve is their field laboratory. From time to time divers will stumble across their underwater experiments. Do not disturb these projects in any way.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: East side of Isthmus Cove, Catalina Island
Access: Boat only, no anchoring in preserve.
Skill level: Intermediate or better. Current and/or drift diving skills required.
Depths: 10 to 130’+, most diving in 30 to 90′ range
Visibility: Very good, averaging 50-60 feet.
Photography: Excellent wide-angle at caves, vertical drops and in kelp. Good for macro with a wide variety of subjects.
Hunting: Nothing may be taken in preserve.