No doubt about it, I am still learning in my diving ventures, still exploring. A recent dive on Bird Rock, Catalina Island, drove that home once again. I must have dived this site a hundred times over the last three decades and thought I knew it inside and out, but I was in for a re-education.
The dive boat Aquatica anchored in a typical spot near the rocky hump and me and my buddy dressed in. When it was our turn to enter the water, the boat had swung out away from the main reef. No big deal, with divers lining up behind us, we jumped in anyway and were going to swim toward the Bird Rock Wall, our main goal. Once in the water, however, with exceptional visibility, I could see the tops of kelp under me indicating reef below. We decided to descend there and head for the wall underwater. It is difficult, after all, to miss a wall.
I always knew the broken rocky reef extended out from the wall for some distance but did not know it was quite this far—some 50 yards. What I found, and many other divers as well, was a collection of large boulders, some as big as pick-up trucks and a fun menagerie of abundant marine life.
Lobsters. They were everywhere back in the deep holes, mini-caves and crevices. While many were small, several were good sized. Considering this is such a popular and easy dive site, this was surprising.
Bring a light to explore the many holes. Back in one deep crevice we spotted a horn shark that must have been four feet long. Other large species back in the holes include rockfish, cabezon, scorpionfish, and even large kelp bass.
We moved toward the wall. The bottom around this broken reef away from the wall is highly varied but averages around 60 feet. Across the tops and sides of the rocks, you will find nudibranchs, rock scallops (most to small to bother with), and a variety of reef fish. Macro photographers will enjoy the antics of island kelpfish, Irish lords, and blue-banded gobies.
A thick kelp growth is attached to the tops of these huge boulders with accompanying schools of blacksmith and señoritas. Filling out the cache of kelp forest fish are garibaldi, opaleye, and rock wrasse.
It was about a third of the way through my dive moving toward the wall that the current came up. Ahh, now I remember why I have only ventured a short distance from the wall in exploring this region. The current can be a bear. The kelp started to lay down horizontal and so we headed for the wall, which is generally out of the way of the stronger effects of the rapidly moving water.
The Bird Rock Wall is a classic and a must do for any serious California divers. It is actually a fairly simple, easy dive. I generally like to approach the wall from the top at about 20 feet and then enjoy the exhilaration of dropping over the edge, “falling” some 40 feet down the vertical rock face that is dotted with colorful gorgonian sea fans and visited by colorful fish. At some points the wall is cut with large crevices. Other places, there is horizontal cracks. All make for great exploration.
Bird Rock once again has shown me why it is one of my favorite dives at Catalina. I now know another aspect of this terrific reef structure. I heard there is swim-through tunnel further out in the same region—time to start planning another dive!
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: On the frontside of Catalina Island at the Isthmus.
Skill Level: All but beware of currents.
Depths: 20 to 70 feet.
Visibility: Very good, averaging 40 to 50 feet.
Snorkeling: Good near the rock, particularly on the south side.
Photography: Good for macro of small fish. Excellent wide angle with vertical rock faces, kelp forest, and cooperative fish.
Hunting: Good for lobster in season. Spearfishing poor to fair; most game fish small.