Divers who frequent California’s Channel Islands are likely to have a love-hate relationship with currents. In general, swift currents sweep out dirty water and replace it with clean, clear water from the open ocean. Locations far from shore benefit the most from this cleansing action. At the same time, diving in strong a current can up the degree of difficulty a notch or two. This is the case with Parallel Reefs at Anacapa Island.
As the name indicates there are three reef strips running parallel to one another, and roughly parallel to the island shoreline on the south side of this tiny three-island chain. They sit east west where West Anacapa and Middle Anacapa Islands almost meet, and are separated by just a small gap of impassible water.
The outermost strip of reef offers perhaps the best diving but it is easy to dive two or even all three reefs in one dive. Visibility averages 50 feet and is often 80 feet or better. Depending on location the reefs are about 50 to 100 feet apart separated by sand. As you move away from one reef you should be able to see the other in the distance.
The inner reef lies in 30 feet of water, with the middle reef at a depth of 50 feet. The outer ridge tops out about 45 feet with a thin but healthy kelp bed. Piles of boulders appear to be stacked in a haphazard fashion, and while the reef does not have a striking profile there are spires and pinnacles and even some mini-arches.
Mats of brittle stars dominate much of the reef like a shag carpet laid over the rocks. The upper pinnacles exhibit the most color with crowding clumps of tiny corynactis anemones in hues of purple, orange, pink and red. They thrive here, thanks to nutrient-rich currents.
Also adding to the color are numerous stands of red, golden, and purple gorgonians. The beautiful purple gorgonian have a very limited range and are found in abundance only at this site and around West Anacapa Island.
Bat, blood, rainbow and pisaster stars dot these reefs. Colorful nudibranchs also are plentiful in this upper area. In short, with sun streaming down through the clear waters this is a visually stunning reef.
Fish life surrounding the reefs includes garibaldi, señorita, opaleye, treefish and gobies. Lucky fish watchers have been known to spot an elusive giant black sea bass from time to time. Once considered a great game fish, the black sea bass is enjoying its protected status.
For real abundance, look to the smaller reef creatures. In an unusual behavior pattern the numerous small ghost gobies will come off the bottom to pick food out of the water column. Perhaps this is why it is not unusual to see their predator the cabazon perched on nearby rocks, ready to pounce. They sit perfectly still, so approach slowly and you could get a great fish face shot. Remember, get low, get close, and shoot up. Another good fish photo subject is the painted greenling. You’ll have to be patient but their funny lips and big eyes give you a lot of material to work with.
If you have enough bottom time, venture out onto the sand to find rays and maybe some halibut. Don’t salivate too much over the halibut here. The larger flatties are few and far between. It is legal to spearfish but game is sparse. The same goes for lobster.
At only a little over one square mile, Anacapa Island is the second smallest of all the California Channel Islands but more importantly it is the closest to the mainland at just 11 miles. It is amazing how well it has held up over the years. Parallel Reefs are an excellent example of just a small taste of this wonderful underwater wilderness.
Location: On the Island’s south side stretching between Middle and West Anacapa. One particular high spot is located at GPS N33°59.986′ W119°24.841′ (Note: GPS Coordinates are for reference purposes only. Not for navigation.)
Skill Level: All as appropriate for depth of reef chosen. Current diving experience suggested.
Depths: 30 to 90 feet depending on which reef.
Visibility: Excellent on outer reef, averaging 60 feet.
Access: Boat only. Professional dive charter operation suggested.
Conditions: Beware of frequent strong currents.
Hunting: Fair to poor. Occasional halibut and few lobsters in season.
Photography: Very good for both wide-angle and macro.