How dive sites get their names is frequently a mystery to me. Take Catalina Island. I have always wondered, and someday will research, where Farnsworth Bank, Toyon Bay, and Cherry Cove got their names. Other dive site names are quite obvious—Casino Point, Ship Rock, or Bird Rock. Most dive site names gain their names from either surface features or from individuals (although sometimes lost in historical obscurity). Rarely are dive sites named for underwater features and animals.
Around Catalina Island there are some exceptions—Eel Cove, Lobster Bay Shark Harbor, Jewfish Point and Garibaldi Reef. While not marked on charts as such, Garibaldi Reef is becoming an increasingly popular dive site with divers visiting Catalina Island.
Although this site is by no means a recent discovery it was not often visited until about 10 years ago when Catalina Scuba Luv, a dive store and charter operation out of Avalon, began diving the site on a regular basis. The then co-owner, Steve Maderas, named the site for the numerous garibaldi at the site (not that there aren’t a lot garibaldi at other sites around the island!).
Garibaldi Reef is so much more than just the bright orange state marine fish. This thin strip of kelp and reef off the east end of Catalina holds a huge amount of marine life, some of which is only found in this area of the island. The scythe butterflyfish, a palm-sized semi-tropical fish is frequently seen here. Although rare, turtles and triggerfish have also been visitors here from warmer seas.
Even the “usual” marine life is more abundant. Schools of opaleye, blacksmith, jack mackerel and selema (another semi-tropical fish, although more abundant) move in and out of the lush kelp. Garibaldi Reef also excels in rock creatures and fish. Macro photographers will like the variety of nudibranchs, small fish like blue-banded gobies (yet another semi-tropical species, but very wide spread, particularly at Catalina), ghost gobies, painted greenlings, island kelpfish and more. Macro photography is excellent here.
Wide-angle picture taking is not too shabby either. In spots, the kelp is thick, in others, thin, giving the photographer with a wide-angle lens many angles and opportunities for just the right lighting. Water clarity here, however, is not as good as other locations around the island.
Other water conditions are, on the other hand, very good. Strong currents are rare and seas are nearly always calm. Anchorage is easy with a sand bottom offshore.
Depths and bottom terrain varies according to exactly where you choose to set up dive operations along the long narrow reef that parallels shore. Generally, the bottom slopes away from shore at a moderate slope. In some locations, mostly toward the south end, the reef is not much more than large scattered boulders amongst gravel. The marine life is still interesting, but the better sections to the north have a more pronounced drop with large boulders, overhangs and holes. Shoreward of the kelp the depth is about 20 feet. At the outer edges, where the rock bottom turns to sand the depths are 55-65 feet. Among the boulders is a good place to look for lobster and some of the uncommon fishes listed above. This is also a good habitat for horn sharks and swell sharks.
The east end of Catalina is noted as a good sport fishing area. Look seaward and sometimes you will spot a passing school of yellowtail.
Protected giant black sea bass also seem to like this as an area to pass through. While they do not seem to take up residence here, they must use this as a corridor to move from the frontside of the bottom to the back and vise versa.
Being close to Avalon, well protected and the option of moderate to shallow depths makes this a common choice for charter boats out of Avalon as the last dive of the day.
There is a lot more here than to just play with the garibaldi.
I don’t know about you, but I could spend the entire dive at this reef doing just that.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: East end of Catalina Island, just north of Seal Rocks. GPS N33°19.561′, W118°18.319′ for south end of reef (dive to the north for more interesting bottom) Note: do not use GPS as your sole source of navigation.
Access: Boat only. Easy to reach from mainland with private boat. Many charters from both the mainland and Avalon.
Skill level: All.
Depths: 20 to 70 feet.
Visibility: Good, averaging 30-40 feet.
Photography: Very good macro with a large variety of subjects, especially small reef fish. Good wide angle with nice kelp forest and schools of fish.
Hunting: Fair for lobster, yellowtail and an occasional halibut.
Hazards: Boat traffic.