Enjoying the East End Pinnacles of Santa Rosa Island

Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I saw that our dive boat had reached the backside of Santa Rosa, the third in the Northern Channel Islands chain, while I’d been snoozing. I wasn’t sure where we were or where we were headed but I quietly wished it was the East End Pinnacles. 

My wish came true.

There are two groups of pinnacles just south of East Point. Three make up the outer group with depths of about 50 feet to the top and 85-100 feet to the bottom. The inner group is also three peaks topping out at about 40-60 feet and the bottom at about 70-80 feet. The rock formations here are not really pinnacles, per se, but more like giant solid rock mounds surrounded by large and small boulders calved from the main rock. There are three primary areas to explore: the top of the reef with the inner group being usually covered with kelp, the walls dropping off from the top to the bottom (my personal favorite area) and the boulders and flat bottom surrounding each pinnacle. Each pinnacle has a different character and profile with the differences between the outer and inner pinnacles being the most profound. 

The outer pinnacles are abundant with invertebrate life and a boon for macro photographers. Nudibranchs abound in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. And the little reef fish are just as fun.

If you are just sightseeing, bring a large light to take in the full rainbow effect. All sections of these reefs are covered with colorful critters. Take the time to head out from the reef onto the flats to see the numerous and huge sand rose anemones. You will be deep, pay attention to your gauges. 

The outer pinnacles can be more difficult to dive because of strong currents. At the inner pinnacles you usually have a moderate to thick kelp growth to help you gauge current speed and direction. With the inner pinnacles you’ll see more fish life and have the benefit of the kelp for that aspect of beauty. There are still a lot of invertebrates, but for the inner pinnacles you are probably better off with a wide-angle rig for photos because of the good number of big fish.

Rockfish are common. You’ll likely find numerous treefish, which are members of the rockfish family. Their yellow and black bars make them attractive photo subjects. Look in the tighter crevices for the even more brightly colored juveniles. 

This has always been a good spot for “star gazing.” Even with the wasting diseases that hit hard a few years ago, decimating sea star populations in some areas, the East End Pinnacles seem to be holding up. While the population is still stunted you can expect to find a good variety and quantity. You’ll see exceptionally large pisaster stars in all their varieties, along with leather, blood, and rainbow stars and more. Sunstars became quite rare up and down the coast during the outbreak, but at the outer pinnacles they are making a slow comeback. 

Hunters might be a bit disappointed here. You’ll still find rock scallops here and there but not in large numbers. Lobster hunting yields fair results in the boulders around the base of the reef. Early in the season is best. Spearfishing is much better at other places around Santa Rosa Island with the possible exception of halibut hunting, which remains good in the shallower sections around the inner pinnacles. 

If you are ambitious, you could circumnavigate some of the pinnacles in one dive. I would not recommend it, however, as there is so much to see here. A better bet is to take your time and enjoy exploring the pinnacles at a leisurely pace. 

AT-A-GLANCE

Skill Level: Intermediate or better.

Location: Off East Point, Santa Rosa Island. The best of the three inner pinnacles can be found at GPS N33° 56.132’, W119° 58.107’. Other pinnacles are easy to find with a depth finder and are marked on most charts.

Access: Boat only.

Entry and Exit: Location is open and exposed which may make water entry off the boat more challenging.

Depth Range: Inner group 40 to 80 feet, outer group 50 to 100 feet.

Visibility: Generally good; averaging 40 feet. Plankton blooms can limit visibility.

Photography: Excellent macro especially on outer pinnacles. Good wide-angle and macro on inner pinnacles.

Hunting: Some scallops, fair for lobster. Spearfishing for halibut good on flats nearby.

Cautions: Currents. 

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