Little Gibraltar Reef

I just love underwater pinnacles. Jutting up from the bottom they create a vertical surface that bask in the currents where marine life thrives. Offshore and to the west of Little Gibraltar Point on the frontside of Catalina is just such a spot. While the site is generally calm and protected, divers rarely visit here.

The location is on the small side and can generally be covered in just one dive. It is actually a pair of pinnacles, one topping out at 33 feet and the second at 55 feet. Steep rock faces with cracks, holes and rock jumbles and bases bottom out at 85 to 100 feet on the seaward side and 60 feet on the shore side.

Headlining the marine life player list (that is long) are the moray eels. This is one of the few locations around Catalina Island where you can find more than one moray to a hole providing a great photo opportunity. But there is so much more than just these slimy photogenic creatures. Octopus, favorite food of the moray, are also common. And favorite food of the octopus, the lobster, can also be found (although most are small).

Kelp varies from thick to thin, depending on the season and water temperatures, but seem to always hold a fair amount of bait fish including blacksmith and jackmackerel. And the baitfish in turn attract big predators like the protected giant black sea bass as well as the popular game fish yellowtail and white sea bass. This spot is popular with free-diving spearfishers for this game.

The dive site also goes by the name Bill Kroll’s Hi Spot after a popular free-diving spearfisherman that died here in 1996 pursuing his favorite sport. Bill was a Sheriff’s Deputy and president of the free-dive spearfishing club, Long Beach Neptunes. A memorial plaque is located at the site between the two pinnacles but is difficult to find because it is overgrown with marine life.

Moving up the rock faces you will find the usual Catalina resident fish dancing around, although many seem to be bigger and more abundant here. You will see opaleye, sheephead, garibaldi, perch, señoritas and rock wrasse. Look for exceptionally large kelpfish in the kelp fronds toward the top of the reefs.

Just as enjoyable as the steep rock faces is the jumbled boulders and surrounding sand. On the rocks look for unusual nudibranchs and flatworms for good macro photos. Small reef fish are abundant. Bluebanded gobies dance like a sprinkling of colorful confetti on the rocks. Other small reef fish providing fuel for the camera clickers include island kelp fish, rockfish, painted greenlings and horn sharks.

But don’t stop at the rocks. The sand nearby can be fun as well. Hanging out here are bat rays and halibut. Look for large holes that might hold a mantis shrimp. These odd looking crustaceans are about the size of a big hot dog with eyes on stalks that rotate in constant vigilance and curiosity. While they make for great macro photos with vibrant colors, don’t get too close. One lightning quick strike of their arms will leave you bleeding heavily, even through gloves.

Out from the main reef are a few spot rocks, here and there like islands on the sandy plain.

Being offshore from the beach, water clarity at this location is generally better than other spots. Currents are common but rarely strong enough to prevent diving here.

Like all Channel Islands dive sites, this is best done aboard one of the many excellent dive charter boats serving Catalina Island. But if you will be bringing your own boat, this is a great location. You will, however, need knowledge on how to precisely use a GPS and a depth finder. Also making this site attractive to the private boater is the good anchorage just to the east of Little Gibraltar Point. Ashore at this spot is a primitive boat-in camping site. There is another primitive boat-in camping site at the beach just to the west of the point at Gibraltar Beach. (Visit www.campingcatalinaisland.com for information.)

Special thanks to the dive charter boat Sand Dollar and Dr. Bill Bushing for help in creating this article.

Dive Spot At A Glance
Location
: Just to the west-northwest of Little Gibraltar Point on the frontside of Catalina Island. GPS N33°25.385′, W118°24.570′ (do not use a GPS as your sole source of navigation).
Access and Entry: Boat only. Lots of dive charter boats from the mainland and Avalon.
Skill Level: All levels, intermediate or better when stronger currents are present.
Depths: 33 to 100 feet, although most diving is 80 feet and above.
Visibility: Good averaging 40 feet with days of 60 common.
Photography: Excellent macro and wide-angle.
Hunting: Good for free-diving spearfishing for yellowtail and white sea bass. A few lobster and rock scallops but most are small.
Facilities: Good anchorage nearby with beach camping.

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