Sometimes the best place to find a new and fun dive spot is when that location is wedged between two popular and frequently visited dive sites. The “in between” location often gets completely overlooked! The shallow reefs to the east of Buttonshell beach is just such a location.
To the northwest is Long Point with its exciting deep and shallow reefs off the point and famous moray eels inside the cove. Eastward are the reefs at Hen Rock with many small caves, lobsters, and deeper reefs. Between these two dive sites is the cove, which holds Buttonshell Beach and the youth camp Camp Fox ashore. Just to the east is a narrow strip of reef and kelp close to shore that leads over to the Hen Rock reef. This is one of the most delightful shallow water dives on the frontside of Catalina Island.
Near the steep shore are an assemblage of jumbled boulders that hold a wonderful little kelp forest and a host of marine life. Lobsters are abundant, probably a hangover from the large population at Hen Rock. Also back in the crevices are treefish, large calico bass, octopus, and even an occasional abalone.
While the abalone are protected, this is not a preserve, so lobster are fair game (in season come this October) and spearfishing is fair not only for the calico bass but also for white sea bass (most, however, are small).
This is a shallow dive with the rocks ending in 30 to 35 feet of water to a sand bottom. This flat bottom is nearly as interesting as the reef. Here you will find many hermit crabs, mantis shrimp, bat rays (which love to eat mantis shrimp), and navanax—a colorful sea slug that likes to eat nudibranchs.
My favorite area, however, is up among the shallow kelp. With depths on the rocks averaging 25 feet or less, a tank of air will go a long way. The sunlight is wonderful in the kelp, garibaldi are friendly and plentiful, and leopard sharks are known to cruise this small forest. Small schools of barracuda sometimes hover in the kelp clearings. This is the perfect place to go and relax and not have to worry about bottom time.
It is also an excellent spot to snorkel. These waters are generally very calm and current is rarely an issue. Anchorage is easy as well.
Plan your next dive trip with the deeper dives at Long Point and Hen Rock, but come to Buttonshell Beach to relax in an enchanted underwater forest.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Thin strip of kelp and reef nearshore between Long Point and Hen Rock on Catalina Island.
Access: Boat only.
Depths: 10 to 35 feet.
Skill Level: All.
Visibility: Good, averages 40 feet.
Photography: Excellent wide angle in shallow kelp with a lot of good light. Fair for macro, good over the sand.
Hunting: Fair for lobster in season and spearfishing for calico bass and white sea bass (on the small side).
Snorkeling: Excellent near shore
Hazards: Boat traffic