|How can you call a dive site in California waters "Coral Reef"? It has no coral, not even hydrocoral (not a even a true coral after all). But when you think of a coral reef, you think of big spreads of bright colors. That is where this California dive site has distinctive similarities to its tropical namesake.
In short, it is covered with colorful invertebrate marine life. Patchwork clusters of tiny corynactis anemones make up the main mosaic. Baseball sized white-spotted rose anemones are dotted here and there. Encrusting sponges also provide splashes of blue, yellow and orange. The rocks here are truly a kaleidoscope of color.
I love the variety and colors of the stars here. Blood stars stand out the best with their bright red-orange color. There are thousands of bat stars in all varieties of colors, from red to orange and some vanilla with purple blotches. Huge sunstars patrol the area for their favorite food, brittle stars, and there is no shortage.
While on the subject, brittle stars have taken over sections of the reef and nearby sand flats. They are colorful, yes, but their population has gone so berserk, in the millions, that it is crowding out the other marine life. It is unknown why, but it is likely just a natural cycle that some of our reefs go through from time to time.
In spite of the brittle star invasion this is still a great dive. Other color is supplied by stands of red, purple, and golden gorgonians and nudibranchs -- a lot of nudibranchs. Yellow dorids seem to be the most common, but you will also see chromodorids, hermissendas and our old favorite the Spanish shawl. I have seen more nudibranchs here than any other part of Anacapa Island.
The fish population is not huge but adequate for the photographer to get some great shots. There are the usual suspects of garibaldi, calico bass, and sheephead. But my favorites are the bottom dwellers -- the rockfish, lingcod and cabezon. They make for good photo subject material the way they, for the most part, sit nice and still for fish portraits, perfect for beginners and pros alike. Get in close to fill the frame with the faces, keeping the eyes in focus.
Coral Reef lies on the seaward side of the west end of West Anacapa Island. It is a set a three or two reefs (depending on location) parallel to the island. Narrow stretches of sand separate inner and outer reefs. In some places, on a day of good visibility you can see from one reef to the next. While the reef is substantial and long, there are no pinnacles and walls but definite high spots and canyons. The outward edge of the outer reef has a steep drop-off. Depths vary but are generally 25 to 50 feet on the inner reefs and 55 to 90+ on the outer. The kelp forest comes and goes but is currently quite thin.
The main disadvantage of this site is the current. It is always present and frequently very strong to the point of making the reef undivable especially on the outer reef. Always use a trailing current line off the boat as the water flow can go from moderate to rapid in minutes. And as always in current start your dive upcurrent.
But it is because of the current that the water clarity is generally quite good, around 40 to 60 feet. Currents are also what feed the abundant life here bringing in a steady flow of nutrient rich waters.
A coral reef it is not, but the color here makes its name well deserved. It is time for a visit. Coral Reef is well known and frequented by dive charter boats (recommended because of the frequent currents and sometimes strong winds).
Location: Seaward side of the west end of West Anacapa Island. GPS N34°00.475', W119°26.064'.
Access: Boat only.
Depths: 25 to 50 feet inside, 55 to over 80 outside.
Skill Level: Beginner on inner reefs, intermediate or higher on outer reefs with current diving experience.
Visibility: Very good to excellent averaging 40 to 60 feet.
Photography: Excellent macro. Only fair wide-angle.
Hunting: Just a few scallops and lobster. Sometimes halibut in the sand between reefs.
Hazards: Strong Currents
Suggested Dive Charter Boats Frequently Serving This Area:
Spectre - (866) 225-3483
Peace - (805) 650-DIVE
Truth/Conception/Vision - (805) 962-1127
Raptor - (805) 650-7700
or see the California Scuba Calendar section for trips to Anacapa Island