Arguments continue to rage over the effectiveness of no-take marine preserves along the California coastline and its offshore islands. Many are just plain skeptical that they will be effective. While they are few and small, look to those examples of spots that have been well managed preserves for many years and the evidence is clear—they work. Landing Cove at the east end of Anacapa Island is a stellar example.

All the diving around Anacapa Island is excellent; however, Landing Cove stands out in terms of marine life quantity and quality, but most of all variety, size and density. Fish and invertebrate life are everywhere! You’ll get whiplash from head turning from one animal and scene to the next.

Close to the cliffs are substantial reef structures thick with lush kelp, holding schools of blacksmith, salema and other schooling fish. I especially enjoy moving in close to the cliffs in shallow water to watch the many opaleye move in and out from the reef with the surge while feeding.

Along the bottom in deeper water big sheephead will greet you. Don’t bust open urchins here to attract fish! Remember, this is a preserve. Instead, rub rocks together to imitate the sound of reef fish feeding and they will come running. And because this is a preserve, they will move in especially close, unafraid. Big calicos, señoritas, colorful rock wrasse, and others will be your companions. Fish photography with a kelp forest background is very good.

Bottom fish are equal in variety and color. Look in crevices for yellow and black treefish or juvenile horn sharks or their spiral shaped egg cases. Tiny but bright blue-banded gobies dot the reef. It is a fun place just to poke around the rocks. Needless to say, because this is a preserve, lobsters are common, some quite large. Bring a camera as it is a great place for lobster face photos.

California Diving News

Reefs here are also fun to explore with interesting caverns. Just around the point to the west is a cave in shallow water, about 15 feet, that goes all the way through the point. This is not a cavern for the timid, however. Even in good visibility you only barely see light from the other side. It is tight and frequently very surgy. The cavern exits under the dock in the cove (not the best place to be, by the way, with boats often moving in and out). I have never gone all the way through as the surge has always forced me back. But poke your head in, if for no other reason to spy on the many lobster therein.

To the left of the dock, at the apex of the cove, is another cavern, this one open to the surface. While uninteresting to the diver, it is fun to explore in a small dinghy.

And finally to the east of the cove, just out from the cliff wall, is a large reef that runs parallel to the cliff. This is my favorite area with tons of scallops (remember, look, don’t touch), a lush kelp forest, and giant schools of fish that flutter like a thousand leaves on a blustery autumn day. But best of all is the huge cavern that runs through the center of the reef. With good visibility, it is possible to see from one end to the other in this cavity that is large enough for a Mac truck, both in length and height. The hole starts at 55 feet and the reef tops out at 20. Sea lions often fly in and through the space. Bring your wide angle lens and big strobes or a powerful light.

The success of this preserve is owed much to the nearly constant presence of National Park personnel. The dock is active during the weekend with dry tourists and hikers coming to see what the island looks like topside. It is a climb of many steps to the top of the island but the vistas are well worth it. Operations that specialize in topside exploration of the islands include Truth Aquatics ( and Island Packers (

Dive Spot At A Glance
: East end of the east island of Anacapa’s three islands. Under the lighthouse on the south side. Easy to find and well marked on the charts.
Access: Boat only for diving. Do not tie up to buoys. Anchorage can be difficult. Check with the National Park Service (805-658-5730) if you want to access the dock for surface exploration. Professional charter boat recommended.
Snorkeling: Good.
Depths: 10 to 60 feet.
Visibility: Very good to excellent.
Skill level: All. Novices should not, however, enter caverns.
Hunting: None. This is a strictly regulated and patrolled reserve.
Photography: Very good for macro and excellent for wide angle with clear water, kelp vistas and cavern shots.
Hazards: Boat traffic, occasional currents especially around the point.

Shearwater TERN