Channel Islands Survey Dives

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Posted by Patrick on November 05, 2011 at 00:06:00:

I just returned from a four day UW survey with a NOAA crew aboard the R/V Shearwater in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. This isn’t a dive report as such, but more just a comment on the incredible marine resource that we have available to us in the Channel Islands.
Primarily a resource monitoring survey, we spent several days at Santa Barbara Island where the benign conditions allowed much work to be accomplished while enjoying the helpful guidance of a nearly constant sea lion escort.
The Santa Ana event mid-week forced us to run west looking for shelter with Coches at Santa Cruz Is. ending up as our anchorage on the evening of the big winds (30-35 kts with gusts over 40 kts). Despite a reasonably comfortable night, we were forced further west the next morning having to bypass a secondary site at Gull Island, and finally finding divable conditions in one of the survey areas near Bee Rock, Santa Rosa Is. My God, what a dive! Though I have dived here many times previously I am in awe at each new visit; the conditions were good despite the winds. About 30-40 foot visibility, 57° water temp and just sumptuous beauty and diverse life across some of the most impressive bottom structure to be found in water of less than 60 feet. Throughout the whole dive area there were dense clusters of all varieties of rockfish, lingcod, cabazon, sheephead, and more varieties of perch that I could identify. As for inverts, nearly every piece of hard structure was carpeted with barnacles, Corynactis, mussels, algae, starfish, crabs, limpets, chitons, nudies and more. The surrounding waters were dense with lush, healthy Macrocystis, the golden-brown carpet spreading across the surface for miles.
The night was spent in the protected lee of Tyler Bight at San Miguel Is., and the next morning a team went in to recover an acoustic recording instrumentation package from a monitoring site nearby. With the forecast calling for adverse weather to be moving into the area later in the day, a check was made to see if conditions would warrant a last couple of cultural resource dives to monitor the site of the SS Cuba lost inside the Foul Area at Point Bennett at the extreme west end of San Miguel Island. The is part of the island is known as “Shark Park” due to the frequency of white sharks that are found in the area near the elephant seal and sea lion rookeries here.
We found conditions at Point Bennett that were within safe limits and made two dives on the wreck site during which we documented the continued deterioration of certain aspects of the wreck as well as some apparent removal of ship structure by persons unknown. The dives on the Cuba are some of the most beautiful one can find. The fish life is incredibly prolific and for the most part pretty unconcerned about divers. The dive itself was dark not only because it takes place under a thick canopy of kelp, but on that day we were working under overcast conditions so ambient light on the wreck was minimal. Still it was an amazing dive and because of the remoteness and the usually rough seas around the wreck site, a dive that one is rarely able to make.
I mention all this because virtually, for scores of miles along these islands, every stop, every dive was awesome in one regard or another, and all this wonderful resource is ours to explore and enjoy just a few miles off the coast.
What a treasure; we are so lucky.
Stay wet.

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