Channel Islands Diving Report

Santa Cruz, Channel Islands Dive Report

Photos from the first Underwater Photography Guide trip of 2010


24 of us set sail on the Peace boat to Santa Cruz Island for some Channel Islands diving, with camera and video recorders in hand. We left at 3AM, and the 3 1/2 hour journey to Gull Island, at the southwest corner of Santa Cruz, was fairly smooth except for an hour of bumps as we crossed the channel from Ventura to Anacapa Island.


As we arrived at Gull island, Santa Cruz - The sun was out, and California Grey whales surrounded the boat! They were all over the place.


california grey whale

Photo by Carl Gwinn. F11, 1/1250th, 300mm





Dive #1 was at Gull Island, "The ledge". Depths were 30ft -80ft. Water temps were 55 all day.The site was full of kelp, structure and macro life. Many Whales and Hilton's nudibranchs were out, along with many Sunflower stars, Rockfish and a few Swell sharks. Considering the recent rain, vis was good at all dive sites.


When I reached my first underwater photography subject, I realized I had left my lens cap on when I went underwater. I quickly surfaced, removed it, went back down, and found my dive buddy. but of course the new Inon endoscope "penetrator" lens Bill Van Antwerp had loaned to me had issues, so none of the shots really turned out anyways.


The current and wind picked up, and the boat started moving. Underwater, the anchor started dragging, at high speed! Divers saw it going by, it almost ran into Kalani and I. Luckily Kalani put it in a safe spot where it stayed put.


At the end of the dive, the current at the surface was ripping, the strongest I've ever experienced. The small boat had to be deployed to get some divers. Holding on to the anchor line was difficult! Unfortunately we couldn't dive the purple hydrocoral spot nearby due to the current and wind picking up.


kelp at santa cruz island

Photo by Brooke Olsen. Giant Kelp forest photograph. F4.5, 1/80th, ISO 400, no strobe, Nikon D90, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens


underwater photography of a sunflower star

Photo by Jamie Nixon. F8, 1/60th, D70, Tokina 10-17mm at 10mm. Close-focus wide-angle of a starfish.


california nudibranch underwater photo

Photo by Kevin Griffen. Hilton's Aeolid nudibranch. Sony A100, F7, 1/125th, ISO 100, at 90mm


sunflower star

Photo by Jamie Nixon. Sunflower star. D70, F8, 1/125th, at 10mm


underwater anemone

Photo by Robin McMunn. Anemone. Sony DSC-W150, F3.3, 1/40th, ISO 400


california nudibranch underwater photo

Photo by Robin McMunn. D. albopunctata nudibranch. Sony DSC-W150, F3.3, 1/40th, ISO 400


underwater photography sheephead in a kelp forest, santa cruz island

Photo by Brian Friedman. Sheephead in a Kelp Forest. F9, 1/100th, ISO 100, Canon Rebel XT, Tokina 10-17mm at 10mm


Dive #2 - Bowen Point


This dive spot had prolific macro life, decent structure and a large number of rarely seen beautiful Simnia snails on the ubiquitous red gorgonians. Good vis, depths 40-60ft. Special thanks to my friend Bart for showing me a Simnia snail laying eggs.


simnia snail underwater photography

Photo by Kevin Griffen. Simnia snail. F11, 1/125th, 90mm


amphipod supermacro underwater photography

Photo by Scott Gietler. Rarely seen Isopod. F16, 1/250th, nikon D300, 60mm lens + 1.4x teleconverter


Simnia snail laying eggs underwater

Simnia snail laying eggs, photo by Mike Bartick. Nikon 60mm lens


simnia snail underwater channel islands

Photo by Kalani Patterson. Canon S90 + 2 inon macro lenses. F4, 1/125th


mating simnia snails on a sea fan

Photo by Scott Gietler. Mating Simnia snails. F16, 1/250th, 60mm + 1.4x tele


Dive #3: Reef near Bowen Point. 


Because of the good conditions and macro life, we decided to stay in the area. The boat reparked on a small reef nearby. I led my friends Bill and Nanette on a long swim back to where the Simnia snails were, and we did find a few more. Bill & Nannette - sorry for swimming so fast!


rare nudibranch southern california underwater

Photo by Kevin Lee. Rare A. oliviae nudibranch with eggs. F11, 1/250th, D300, 60mm + 1.4x teleconverter


sea hare in kelp, southern california

Photo by Todd Winner. Sea hare under the boat. Nikon D2X, F9, 1/50th, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye at 10mm


cabezon underwater photo

Photo by Kevin Lee. Young cabezon. F11, 1/250th, 60mm + 1.4x tele


swell shark egg underwater

Photo by Steve Murvine, Swell Shark Egg. Canon G9, F8, 1/60th


inon endoscope macro wide angle lens photography

Sea hare kiss, photo by Mike Bartick, Inon "insect" lens


Dive #4 - Albert's Cove


I'm ashamed to say that I sat this dive out, but 15 divers went in, and they all said it was a good macro spot. Dana found a Cabezon guarding it's eggs.


cabezon with eggs, underwater california

Photo by Dana Rodda. Canon SD990, F2.8, 1/200th


sunlit kelp forest channel islands

Photo by Todd Winner.  Nikon D2X, F10, 1/250th, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye at 10mm


The service, crew, food on the Peace boat was exceptional, as always. Excellent Chef Joe made great soup, wonderful pasta and chicken, and of course the famous brownies. Most people had long dives on Nitrox. We worried about rain, but actually we had sun the entire day! Captain Eric did a great job bringing us to the best spots possible given the wind and currents.


The ride home was smooth until we left the shadow of Anacapa island, and then it was really crazy! Gear was flying all over. But we all made it back safely. 


thanks everyone for coming, and let's do it again soon!


Please leave comments below if you enjoyed any of the photos, and contact me if you want to join our next fun photography charter. Lots of one-day trips coming up, and a two-day channel islands trip in November to San Miguel!




Further Reading


Great Dive Destinations for Underwater Photography


Beginner's Guide to Underwater Photography


California Marine Life