California’s coastline used to be home to some of the richest waters in the world, but since the 1960’s we have lost over 90% of our big game and over 75% of our kelp forests.
Because the decimation of any one species can cause irreparable harm to the entire ecosystem, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designed to protect all plants and animals in the entire ecosystem in the park.
Depending on the type of MPA, some taking of game is still allowed, for example in State Marine Parks, sport fishing is allowed, but not commercial fishing. In State Marine Reserves, any type of fishing is illegal and violators are subject to severe penalties.
In 1997 a group of scientists embarked on a two year project to see if fishes were responding well to the creation of MPAs. They surveyed three no-take zones on Catalina Island and two off the mainland coast, and found that not only were the fishes more abundant in the reserve, but the largest size individuals were also found within the confines of the no-take zones. Their findings suggest that the protected areas are providing a safe haven for fish to reach maturity, translating into higher reproductive output.
In 2012, another study was conducted in the Channel Islands, where MPAs have been in place for over a decade. The results showed that lobsters were more abundant and larger in protected areas, with over five more legal-sized lobsters caught per trap on average inside the refuges. Both recreational and commercial fishing in parts of the islands actually increased from 2003 to 2008.
As the MPA program matures, more data becomes available to prove that conservation has a positive impact on the ecosystem. As scuba divers, let’s respect the MPAs and enjoy all the kelp, fishes and big game that are returning to our waters.
Trip was expected to do 2 dives on the Oil Rigs and a third dive at the Olympic II wreck. The ride out of the harbor was slow. Dense Fog. Captain called off anchoring at the Olympic wreck due to the fog. Decision was made to do 3 dives on the oil rigs. I managed the waiver process. When waivers were done I had both of the DMC's on board (Gary and Chris) check the waivers for errors. During sign ups, I had Donna Webster cross-off a mistake on her waiver and not initial it. I had her not put the name of the boat on the waiver nor did she sign the waiver. Tough love but good exercise for the DMC's, neither of which caught any of the problems.
At the rig, boat's DM gave a site briefing. After, I gave a short briefing introducing Jing, Steven and myself and stressing short bottom times and to watch their nitrogen buildup. I told the divers not to miss or omit their safety stops and if they had any questions they were to ask Jing, Steven or me. Jing led a diver and I led a diver new to California waters. Steven Soo was doing a deep specialty. I talked individually to "advanced" divers with under 15 total dives to make sure they were comfortable with the dive and to invite them to dive with me if they wanted to. I let those divers know how important good buoyancy was on a rig dive and to make sure they added air to control their descent and to let air out on the ascent.
Diving aboard the Magician was awesome, conditions were REALLY FLAT on the way over to Catalina Island.
Our first dive of the day was at "rippers cove" located on the front side of Catalina Island, tons of fish were seen! Schools of more species than I can write were visible in every direction. My students couldn't take their mask off without hitting some fish! Everything from tons of Garibaldi, hordes of super vibrant blue banded goby's lurking in the nearby rocks and kelp forrest and even a bat ray in the sand was spotted on our dive! Visibility was about 40-50 feet at this location, there was no current and the water temp was 73 degrees!!!
Our groups second and final dive was at Fraggle Rock, the sandy bottom and nearby reef make this site ideal for the newly certified novice and the advanced diver alike. Lots of nearby structure harboring spiny lobsters, kelp bass, white sea bass and the occasional giant black sea bass. Nudibranchs, coral fans and other great finds can be photographed at this site. Visibility was about 30-50 feet at this location, there was no current and the water temp was 72 degrees!!!
Conditions were UNREAL at Casino Point in Catalina on last Sunday. 50 ft. viz, 73 degree water and great sunny weather. Casino Point in Catalina Island is a well-known MPA (marine protected area) and the fish were out in force. I think they know they are safe J. Tons of large sheephead, blacksmith, and the biggest kelp bass I have ever seen. On dive 1 we descended down and then followed the slope into the clearing and then around past the Jacques Cousteau monument. Pro tip: As the kelp thins out to the large clearing at about 45-65 feet, hover motionless about 10-15 feet off the bottom and look down. The clearing is like a freeway for bat rays.
On dive 2 we kept it shallow because this is the time of year that the juvenile garibaldis are in abundance. They are the tiny orange fish (1-2”) with iridescent blue spots. Look under rocks and ledges and you will find them. But be careful for large garibaldis are known as territorial of the damsel fish, even coming after divers when you get too close. Pro tip: put some frozen peas in your pocket and they will come right up to you to investigate the smell and you can nail a killer photo. Don’t feed them though. While the garibaldis might be virtually harmless, the kelp bass and the sheephead pack a good set of teeth and will not differentiate a pea from the tip of your finger. Next week I will be diving on the Magician dive boat in search of some giant black sea bass. It seems that everyone has been spotting them but me. Till next time this is Jason your local divemaster signing off from Eco Dive Center.