Along the backside of Anacapa Island, between Middle and West Anacapa, are a series of reefs that run roughly parallel to shore, hence the name. It is a large dive area with a variety of depths, and one can easily spend an entire day of diving here, if not a whole season.
The most interesting of the reefs is the outer spine. This rocky outcropping extends for considerable distance and offers a good profile with pinnacles, ridges, and mini-walls. The top of the reef sits at 45 feet with sand at 90 feet. In some spots, the reef drops in stair step fashion creating platforms that hold small patches of sand and associated life. I love the mini-walls here with deep crevices and overhangs that hold rockfish, an occasional scallop, and a host of invertebrates.
All over the rocks are patches of colorful corynatis anemones in a variety of warm hues. Gorgonians decorate the reef as well, again in differing colors and varieties. With all this color, this is a good area for photography, both macro and wide angle. Other small critters here that make good macro subjects include an unusual amount of zebra gobies (generally more rare than their blue-banded cousins), small lingcod, moonglow anemones and occasional nudibranch. For the wide angle photographer the good reef profile and sprigs of kelp here and there make for a nice back drop to divers or the occasional maurading sea lion. In the sand, look also for rays and flat fish.
The inner reef has less profile, more kelp and different kinds of opportunities. Rocks here are more patchy in nature and most are covered in kelp. Depths here vary from 40 to 55 feet. There are more nudibranchs to observe and photograph, as well as fish that are associated with the kelp forest. Look for kelpfish in a number of varieties, garibaldi, and sheephead. Hunters will do better in this area with halibut on the sand, an occasional (but skittish) calico bass, and lobster amongst the boulders. If you are a skilled free diver you might be able to get close to a white sea bass in this area. Looking for scallops? Those are mostly on the deeper reef and even then sparse.
There is another reef even further inside this but it is rarely dived. With a depth of around 30 feet or less it is often surgy and, tucked in close to the island, the water is dirtier.
Dive charter boats from Ventura and Santa Barbara make frequent visits to Anacapa Island and this is a common destination. Anacapa Island is only a short run from the mainland so single day trips are popular. I highly recommend hoping aboard one of the mid-week “specials” that travel to Anacapa. They are a great value, the boats are uncrowded and diving pace relaxed.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: On the backside (south side) of Anacapa Island between the Middle and West Island. GPS for outer reef N 33°59.993′, W119°24.824′ (GPS is for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only.
Skill Level: All
Depths: 40 to 90 feet, most diving above 70 feet.
Visibility: Good, averages 30 to 40 feet. Better on the outer reef.
Photography: Good, macro best.
Hunting: Fair. Spearfishing on inner reefs for halibut, white sea bass. Scallops sparse. Occasional lobster.
Snorkeling: Poor; reefs too deep.