If we are to see and photograph more fish, we have to go where they are in abundance. And a long established marine preserve is the best place to do this. With a marine preserve that has been around for decades, not only are fish plentiful, they are usually large and unafraid of divers. Such is the case on the frontside of East Anacapa Island. In existence since 1978, this is one of the longest established marine preserves in North America. Smack dab in the middle of this marine reserve is a dive site known as “The Garden.”
While there was a lot here to see and photograph, two things impressed me the most — the friendliness of the fish and the lushness of the kelp forest.
The sheephead here are especially fun. Large and unafraid, they approach closely seemingly just out of curiosity. Bump or scrape some rocks together and they will be all over you. Big males show off their tri-color pattern and sport sharp buck teeth. Don’t worry. They don’t bite (usually). The bigger guys can approach three feet long! This is also a good spot to see the brightly colored babies.
Another fish that is impressive in size here are the kelp bass. While abundant in kelp forests throughout the region, kelp bass (also known as calico bass) are rarely seen much larger than 18 inches long. Here the two footers are quite common and they are fat and sassy and in your face.
I spent half the dive here having a blast and delighting myself in the marine life in an area of about three square yards. I saw and got great photos of decorator crabs, nudibranchs, juvenile and adult garibaldi, bluebanded gobies, and a juvenile treefish (okay, not such a great photo of him as he would not sit still.) But because I relaxed and stayed in one spot, I got a good photo of a señorita fish. Does not sound like much but try it sometime.
The rest of the dive I took my time surveying the site. Huge jumbled boulders form mini-walls to cruise along. There were cracks and crevices holding an occasional lobster, scallops and in one hole, an exceptionally large swell shark. The entire reef was covered in lush kelp with a canopy that reached to the surface and split the sunlight into dozens of beam-like stained glass.
The rocky reef dropped of irregularly at a moderate pace to about 30 feet where it plateaus out for a short while, then drops sharply to 50 feet and a sand bottom. The outer and sand can sometimes be subject to moderate currents, so plan your dive accordingly.
Additional sections of the Channel Islands National Park have also become marine reserves in the last few years. With vigilance, these areas will also prosper much as this spot has become a “garden” spot.
Special thanks to the dive boat Spectre for help in the writing of this article.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Frontside of East Anacapa Island. GPS N34°01.041′, W119°22.009′ (GPS for reference only; do not use as you sole source of navigation)
Access: Boat only. Many dive charter boats from Santa Barbara/Ventura area (see list below) or by private boats with boat ramps in Ventura and Channel Islands Harbors.
Depths: 10 to 50 feet
Skill level: All but watch for thick kelp and moderate currents on the outside
Visibility: Good, averages 30 to 40 feet
Photography: Excellent with a wide variety of friendly marine life, especially the fish.
Hunting: None. This is a marine preserve.