The extreme west end of the West Anacapa Island is one of the most exciting, colorful dive sites in all the Northern Channel Islands chain—and it is rarely dived. This is a very special place.
Descending to the reefs you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the color provided by profuse growths of gorgonia. The more common and colorful gold and red gorgonia are present but what makes this place special is the uncommon purple gorgonian; uncommon, however, except for here. There are several mini-walls covered with it.
Purple gorgonian, like other gorgonian sea fans, is actually a soft coral. Made up of tiny polyps, they filter bits of food borne on currents and surge. Individual stands of purple gorgonian are not particularly large, rarely bigger than 12 inches, but what they lack in size they make up for in color. Bring a light along for a special display of rich, vibrant color.
And if you look real close, you might spot the rare Simnia snail that lives and feeds exclusively on purple and red gorgonia. Only about 1 in 50 stands of gorgonian have these rare mollusks so you will have to look around. Matched in color to their hosts, they make for great macro photography but being quite tiny, 1/4 to 1/2 inch, you will have to have your photo rig set up for extreme closeup.
There is so much else that bring color to these reefs. Spanish shawl nudibranchs can be found every 10 feet. Others kinds of nudibranchs are common as well. Stars seen here include the bluish giant spined, sand stars, bat stars, fragile star, and, my favorite, the bright blood star. At one point on the south side of the point, a mini-wall is solid with bright yellow, covered with tiny zoanthid anemones. These yellow-orange anemones frequently take over gorgonians, smothering and killing them in the process but in this location it is a wall they have engulfed. Anemones are abundant and various. Pink and lavender corynactus blanket some areas. Moonglow anemones dot the reef here and there.
Second only to the spectacular color of the invertebrate population is the topography. The south side of the point is best with huge gashes 30 feet deep and 20 feet wide. Boulders, if I can use that term, the size of two-story houses make for mini-walls that are covered with life. Deep crevices and cracks are everywhere. The reef tumbles at a steep pace to a sand bottom 90 feet down. There is plenty to explore in 40 to 70 feet of water. The north side of the point is similar but bottoms out to sand at about 65 feet.
Kelp is sparse which makes moving around the reef easier. There is lush low-lying growth like coraline algae and palm kelp. The kelp is thicker on the north side.
Something I very much enjoyed seeing here was pink abalone. I took the opportunity to hand feed one a kelp frond. Holding it in front of its mouth, they will do a little dance reaching for their favorite food. Now fully protected, I hope the few I saw here will seed a great comeback. Do not touch or disturb these mollusks in any way.
Because the point is open to both weather from the north and south, and due to strong currents that frequent this site, the West End is often not divable. Surge can be strong, even when relatively calm. Prevailing currents run from the east to west but can change, even suddenly. Use caution, and, just in case, a current line.
The currents make this a site that buzzes with fish activity. Sheephead (most females although large), blacksmith, island kelpfish, gobies, rockfish, opaeye, and garibaldi are all abundant here. Black perch are unusually large. Lingcod, although small, like this spot as well.
Hunters will find better hunting grounds elsewhere. Calico bass were curiously lacking and the few lobster are small. There are some rock scallops.
Rather than hunting, enjoy this underwater garden in a peaceful relaxed diver, taking in all the color. Fish will dance and your breathing will relax as you become one with the sea. About then a sea lion will buzz you, getting right in your face and scaring you half to death. Yes, they are here too, but that’s part of the fun.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Extreme west end of West Anacapa Island. Actually two dives, one on the south side of the point, the other on the north. (GPS N 34°00.778′, W 119° 26.174′ for south side of point. Use GPS for reference only and not as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only but conditions have to be just right.
Skill Level: All if call with no currents, otherwise intermediate or better.
Depths: 20 to 90 feet.
Visibility: Very good. Averages 50 feet.
Snorkeling: Poor. Too surgy in shallow.
Photography: Excellent for both wide angle and macro with a wide variety of subjects, lighting and angles.
Hunting: Poor. Some lobsters and scallops. Little to spearfish.
Hazards: Surge, currents.