On a recent dive trip to Catalina Island I was sharing the boat with two basic classes, visiting the island and its underwater realms for the first time. While the kelp was thick, marine life abundant, the water clarity this day left something to be desired. It was an unusually poor day for Catalina with visibility averaging about 20 feet. This was not just one isolated spot but rather consistent on the frontside of the island. Not a good day for Catalina.

The new divers were not disappointed and had a good time, but the instructors, myself, and other experienced divers aboard felt compelled to convey to the novices that Catalina can do better than this, and usually does. (Oh, yeah — I had a good time, too.)

I remember being on another similar dive a few years ago, again with rank beginners, and also on the frontside of Catalina. This time, however, visibility was close to 100 feet. Black sea bass the size of people visited and sea lions got in your face. Leopard sharks were seen and a bald eagle flew overhead. It was a magical day. But the new divers, being their first visit to Catalina, although excited, thought this was typical.

When we visit a dive site for the first time, we are getting but a small glimpse of what this dive spot is like at that particular moment in time. The perception of that small section of the ocean floor can be somewhat warped. The vast majority of dive sites along our coast and around our islands vary considerably in water conditions. As for marine life, there are those residents you will see time after time, but most dive sites have transients that move in and out. Many species of fish are only seen specific times of the year, month or day. The ocean has its distinctive seasons. Climatic effects like El Niño and La Niña, more difficult to track from year to year, also have their impact. There are some dive sites in Southern California that currently look nothing like they did a few years ago when they were denuded from El Niño.

Just because you have been to a particular dive site and think, “been there, done that” that you shouldn’t discount divinig that site again. By the same token, don’t be disappointed should you return to a previously “spectacular” dive site only to find it a less desirable. Be open to new experiences and the same dive sites.

The California ocean floor is wilderness, but wilderness much different than our mountains or deserts. The California ocean has a way of changing its look in short order, sometimes in just days. Enjoy those changes and the variety they bring by visiting the ocean often.