Considering it is so easy to reach, and that so many new divers get their first experiences here, Anacapa Island can hold some high-voltage dive experiences. Dive spots like Coral Reef and the extreme west end hold deep drop-offs and rapid currents. The sea lion dive is one of the best in all the Channel Islands with a constant barrage of dive-bombing pinnepeds. Then there is the rarely visited deep WWII Avenger airplane wreck.
The “Channels” site is not one of these high-energy dives. In fact, it is a complete opposite. Channels is a place to simply relax and meditate on the beauty of the California kelp forest. With depths ranging from 10 to 30 feet, it is the perfect last dive of the day, ideal for a long, low-key dive.
The dive site gains its name from the formation of the reef. Channels of clean ivory sand reach into the reef toward the island. They narrow and wind their way into the rocks becoming narrower as they progress with mini-walls on either side. There are overhangs, deep crevices and small caves. Atop the rocks are healthy forests of kelp punctuated with fields of green surf grass the shallower you progress. With the shallow depths you can explore just about all of it, but my favorite part is to leisurely hang out mid-corridor with kelp on either side and watch the schools of fish swim about.
Pile perch and black perch are the most common with some rubberlip seaperch thrown in for good measure. They vary in schools of just a handful to over four-dozen, often intermingled with each other. Although they seem at ease with divers, they can be difficult to photograph in that balancing the light and strobes is a challenge. The pile perch are reflective silver and the black perch are dark; in addition, you will want to bring in the beauty of the kelp forest in the background. Add to the mix the potential of backscatter from the sand and the much-desired shot will take your best skills to capture. Set your exposure first for the background, not too bright but moody and subdued. Stretch your strobes (preferably dual) as wide as possible. Get close and focus in on three or four individuals in the school and let the rest fall into the background. From then on much is left to luck as to how the fish will turn and reflect back the light. For the reflective fish a flat on shot to the side usually gives you the highest reflection, blowing out the exposure. Try to capture the pile perch at slightly head-on angle. “Black” surfperch is actually a bit of a misnomer as they vary in color from dark chestnut brown to green with gold and other bits of color included.
As you are concentrating on your great kelp vista photos, odds are a cute harbor seal will visit you. While usually shy they are quite curious preferring to approach when you are not paying attention to them specifically. Be ready as sometimes they are right behind you looking over your shoulder in intense curiosity on just what you are concentrating on.
Macro material is only fair here. There are colorful anemones and ochre stars of varying shapes and sizes but few nudibranchs. On the deeper portions of the reef you will find small fish including gobies, painted greenlings and occasionally an island kelpfish.
This dive site is outside of any marine preserving so hunting is allowed, but frankly there is not much to grab or spear. The site is heavily trapped during lobster season, but you could have some luck up in the shallow surfgrass where the trappers can’t reach but watch out for the sometimes intense surge.
You do not have to be a photographer or hunter to totally enjoy this dive site. You don’t even have to move around a lot. Channels is like a big overstuffed easy chair sitting in the middle of a clearing in an enchanted forest. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the serenity.
Special thanks to the dive charter boat Spectre for assistance in creating this article.
Location: Seaward side of West Anacapa Island just west of Cat Rock. (GPS N34°00.450′, W119°25.779′)
Access: Boat only. Several dive boat charters from mainland available (see below).
Depths: 10 to 30 feet.
Skill level: All
Visibility: Very good to excellent especially in the winter.
Photography: Excellent wide angle kelp vistas with schools of fish. Macro only fair.
Hunting: Little except an occasional lobster in shallow.
Hazards: Can be surgy in shallow.
Suggested Dive Charter Boats Frequently Serving This Area:
Spectre – (866) 225-3483
Peace – (805) 650-DIVE
Truth/Conception/Vision – (805) 962-1127
Raptor – (805) 650-7700
or see the California Scuba Calendar section of this issue for trips to Anacapa Island