Being lucky enough to dive several locations around the globe and seeing all of the diverse life above and below the water exotic locations have to offer, my wife and I still find Catalina Island as magical as anywhere else in the world. After all, we have to remember that our local waters and attractions are someone else’s vacation destination. When you think of it like that, you can get that feeling of seeing it for the first time just like someone who has traveled to get here.
Diving in Southern California can present some challenges in comparison to say a warm water location, but if you know where to go most of these differences seem to just fade away when one sees the beauty and abundance of life just beneath the waves.
One of those locations is the Avalon Underwater Park at Casino Point on Catalina Island. It seems to exist just for the pure enjoyment of diving even though it was created as a Marine Preserve. The City of Avalon has gone to great measures to make this spot as diver friendly as possible. They even added stairs that descend right into the water to make entries and exits as easy as possible. There is also an air fill truck and lockers to make your experience as convenient and enjoyable as possible.
After entering the water from the stairs directly across from the Casino, you can make a short kick out to one of two buoys to make your descent. Deflate your BC and off you go!
Magnificent is a word that comes to mind. Kelp, kelp and more kelp. A beautiful, magical kelp forest right in front of you teaming with life. If you are a camera buff, this is the place for you. The visibility ranges from 15 feet to about 100 feet depending on the time of year, but has much to offer from macro subjects Like Hermit Crabs and Nudibranchs to 300 pound Black Sea Bass.
Most of the life is fairly approachable with even some of the locals swimming right up to you to check you out! On any given dive, you can see Bat Rays, Kelp Fish, Horn Sharks, Octopus, Garibaldi, Kelp Bass, Opal Eye, Sea Urchin, Sheephead, Scallops, Wrasse, Senoritas, Spiny Lobster, Treefish,, Sea Cucumber, and much more if you take a flashlight and explore all the nooks and crannies.
The Garibaldi is most interesting. The male does flips and clicks to attract a mate. Once she is adequately impressed she lays her eggs, he fertilizes them and then chases her off to guard the eggs solo until they hatch. If you happen upon one of these egg patches, the Garibaldi will become very aggressive and try to chase you off. A brave little guy to be sure.
The kelp is, as my wife puts it, “Like Flying through a Forest”. You can cruise through it from the minute you enter the water to about 50 feet on the outside where there is a large sandy area. This is the place to hang out if you want to catch a glimpse of the Great Black Sea Bass who have recently made an impressive comeback after many years of absence.
There are also a couple of wrecks to explore in the deeper areas of the park. There are two or three that reside within the park and a couple that are outside of the boundaries. If you want to dive those, you must first obtain permission from the Harbor Master. You can also visit one of the dive shops on the Island and purchase a map that will guide you in the right direction.
Traveling to Catalina Island is like traveling back in time to a Mediterranean Island with all of its quaint hotels, shops and restaurants. There are ample activities from Golfing to Kayaking. They even have a brand new zip line for those of you who are not faint of heart! You can check with the Catalina Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Bureau or online to get more information on a visit to the Island.
Catalina Island is easily accessible from several ports and harbors up and down the Southern California Coast. You can check with your local dive shop to see which operation is best suited to your individual needs.
Words & Photos by Kevin Panizza
Kevin Panizza owns Ocean Image Photography, which was founded in 2004 out of his love for anything of the Ocean. Based in San Clemente California, he offers Fine Art Prints and Commissioned photo work.
This article was featured in the
January/February 2011 issue of
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