One of the best memories of my life is linked, or maybe it’s better to say “anchored”, to this magical place. It was a beautiful and warm summer day, the ocean was unbelievably calm, like it was asleep. No clouds in the sky, the visibility was excellent and a giant, friendly sun was giving me all the natural light I could ask for. A perfect day for underwater photography.

I remember I made three amazing dives, trying to get as much as I could out of this awesome opportunity and perfect conditions, and I actually took some excellent photos that day. I can still clearly recall the vivid feeling of swimming through the giant kelp in the clear water; I felt like I was flying through a forest.

But the best was still to come. At the end of the day we anchored in Landing Cove on the northeast end of Anacapa island, right under the beautiful lighthouse and the famous rock arch. After I cleaned my dive gear and took care of the camera equipment, I had a nice dinner, enjoyed the sunset and went to sleep. Not long after, I was woken by some strange noises…

Anacapa
Towering green forests of kelp form the foundation for a rich marine ecosystem © Antonio Busiello

A midnight feast

My need for sleep no match for my curiosity, I went up on deck to see what was happening. The spectacle that greeted me was incredible – dozens of sea lions hunting sardines under the full moon! They were everywhere –  jumping out of the water, barking like dogs and chasing the shining silver sardines. They looked like they were playing, just like children, and the big full moon was shining directly over the beautiful rock arch, lighting everything up, sparkling on the splashing water, illuminating the jumping sea lions. The moon was so bright I could perfectly make out their shining bodies catching sardines in mid-air and then falling back into the water. The island and the rocks were all painted silver by the light of the moon, and everything was right there, so close I could have caught a sardine myself just by reaching into the water.

I remember I sat in the stern with my feet dangling off the boat, enjoying the beauty of it all until the very end. It was indeed a remarkable day and a memory I will always bring with me.

underwater california
Colourful benthic life, including urchins and starfish, carpets the sea floor, while bright Garibaldi damselfish weave through the kelp © Antonio Busiello

Isolated wilderness, right on the doorstep

The Channel Islands National Park is literally an explosion of life, above and below water. It is incredible that such a place exists just a few miles from a big city like Los Angeles; it feels remote, pristine, unexplored. These waters are a reminder of what California’s marine life once was.

These Islands were never part of the continental shelf. Thanks to this isolation, they are now home to over 150 endemic species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. For this reason, they are also known as the “Galápagos of California”.

They are rightly considered to be a paradise for divers – you can swim among seals, rays, dolphins and even leopard sharks. The macro life is also abundant and diverse, with amazing, colourful anemones, sea urchins, nudibranchs, sea stars and all kinds of other tiny creatures ready to be admired and photographed.

Christmas tree worms filter their flood from the nutrient-rich currents that wash these islands © Antonio Busiello

The other three islands (San Clemente, San Nicolas and Santa Catalina islands) are found more to the south, in front of the bay between Los Angeles and San Diego. Santa Catalina is the only one of the eight islands with a permanent residential community, hotels, restaurants and diving centres. The rest can be reached by boat trips on daily excursions; some of them have camping facilities, and host initiatives run by park rangers.

The Channel Islands is an eight-island archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, located just off the coast of Southern California, in a body of water called the Santa Barbara Channel. Five of these eight islands are part of the Channel Islands National Park, (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara). The waters surrounding these five islands form the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1980 and considered to be one of the planet’s greatest marine ecosystems.

In the Santa Barbara Channel on the way to the islands, it is very common to see whales and dolphins. Twenty-seven species of cetaceans, exactly one-third of cetacean species found on Earth, can be seen in the Santa Barbara Channel, a testament to this incredible marine environment.

The National Park offers a great live experience with the Channel Islands Live programme as an opportunity for divers from afar to do a “virtual” dive in the kelp forest and around the islands, thanks to live Web cams. Click HERE.

Inquisitive sea lions offer divers charming © Antonio Busiello

This article, written by Antonio Busiello, featured in the #oceanplanet section in Scuba Diver AustraliaAsia + Oceanplanet “Blue Green Edition” Issue 2/2017. The issue itself is dedicated to conservation and honours the winners of the Bluegreen360 Awards 2017, presented to those businesses that are committed to eco-friendly practices and marine conservation.

 

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scuba diver cover 2/2017

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