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  • Writer's pictureMick McMurray

Underwater World of the Northern Channel Islands

Updated: 4 days ago

California sea lion in clear blue water
California sea lion

There are 5 islands that comprise the Channel Islands National Park. They are San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Although we have never taken a ferry out to the islands there are outstanding camping and backpacking experiences to be had on the Islands. The ferries run out of Ventura and Oxnard. Remember these are protected Islands so practice good trail and camping etiquette and leave no trace.

Our scuba diving adventures in the Channel Islands are awesome. We have taken commercial dive boats out of San Diego that mainly go to Catalina, San Clemente, and Santa Barbara Islands. The diverse marine life makes for an exciting and unique diving experience. Divers of all levels can take advantage of the many trips commercial dive boats offer and experience the Channel Islands' beauty. The kelp forests around San Clemente islands are the best we have seen anywhere. We have camped on Catalina Island at Two Harbors which is a secluded and quiet area as compared to Avalon.

We have dived a quite few times at the Northern Channel Islands. We have taken dive boats out of Santa Barbara for trips to these islands. Our favorite is the Vision. It is 80 feet long and can accommodate 30 divers however we have gone on private charters of 22 divers which are more expensive but less crowded. The dive orientations at the dive sites and the meals are excellent. We did make a couple of trips on the Conception which tragically caught fire and sank on Sept. 2, 2019, killing 34 people.

The diving around these Islands is spectacular and attracts divers from all over the world. In the summer the water temperature is usually in the mid to upper 60s so a good 6 mil wetsuit will suffice but at other times of the year, the water temps are lower and can even drop down into the high 40s at depth so we opted for drysuits for the winter diving. The Northern Channel Islands are home to a wide variety of marine life, including sea lions, seals, dolphins, and a wide variety of fish. For more on these fish see our gallery "Fish of Southern California"

The sea lion rookery on Santa Barbara Island is a fun place to dive and the juvenile sea lions will come out and swarm you in a playful manner.

The invertebrate life is astonishing with the varieties of sea stars, anemones, and gorgonians. So whether you are swimming through the kelp or just drifting along the bottom there is something to see.

And no Channel Island trip report would be complete without some photos of the California State Marine Fish, the Garibaldi. They are so friendly and inquisitive that they will swim right up to and look into the camera port.


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