October 30, 2015

Amazing Conditions and Unique Sightings Highlight Channel Islands Expedition

By Charleen Conlogue, Reef Check California Southern California Volunteer Coordinator

In July, Reef Check launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to survey the northern Channel Islands of California. After reaching full funding for our campaign, the survey expedition was held in September and visited Santa Rosa, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. Our goal was to complete as many dive sites as we could and we definitely accomplished that. We had an excellent team of 25 citizen scientist divers on this expedition with a range of experience: a handful had volunteered with Reef Check California for ten years whereas others were finishing up their training on this trip. We were able to do an unprecedented eleven sites in three days! On behalf of the Reef Check Foundation, I would like to thank everyone who donated to our Kickstarter project, especially to the Lesser family, Michael Schechter and Channel Islands Scuba for their remarkable donations.

Details of the expedition follow.

I arrived at Ventura Harbor around 9:30pm on August 31st to board the Truth Aquatics liveaboard boat. Once I finished catching up with fellow Reef Checkers, I laid in bed trying to fall asleep. Around 3:30am, I woke up to the boat’s engines starting and water splashing on the side. I thought to myself, \”Here we go!\” With a smile on my face and excited little butterflies in my stomach, I tried falling asleep again. Waking up with a cup of coffee, watching the sunrise, feeling a crisp breeze on my face and looking at the Channel Island chain is a wonderful experience. I would recommend it to anyone who has any bit of wanderlust.

The first day of the expedition was spent surveying four different dive sites on Santa Rosa Island- East Point, Elk Ridge, Johnson Lee and South Point. Of these, Elk Ridge was definitely one of my favorite sites of the whole expedition; it is a beautiful rocky reef. With gorgeous kelp forests, there were numerous surf perch and rockfish swimming over our transects, and an amazing number of invertebrates including colorful nudibranchs and a wrestling octopus that wanted to take my transect line. I was laughing so much I probably used a third of my air having that tug-of-war! South Point was an amazing dive as well, with clusters of Red Abalone, some measuring to 27cm, and fish like Kelp Greenlings and Lingcod. Exhausted from a wonderful first day, everyone settled into their bunks and got some much needed rest.

Anacapa Island was gorgeous the next day! We had pristine conditions; the sun was out, the water was about 69° F and the visibility averaged 40 feet at our dive sites. We surveyed four locations again- Landing Cove, Cathedral Cove, Cathedral Wall and Goldfish Bowl. For our second dive day, Landing Cove was pretty stellar with iconic California kelp forests and sea lions swimming around us. Goldfish Bowl gave everyone something to celebrate; some of our scientific divers saw a Giant Black Sea Bass and others saw a green sea turtle, which are very unusual for this area. I am pretty sure everyone came up from the dive with smiles on their faces and pictures of the amazing sea creatures we saw.

That night we stayed in Scorpion Bay. A handful of divers did a fun night dive while others played dominos and watched sea lions feeding on squid and flying fish.

Our final day on Santa Cruz Island treated us well. We performed surveys at three dive sites: Scorpion Anchorage, Pelican Anchorage and Cueva Valdez. Scorpion Anchorage was an amazing dive. It was a very pleasant surprise. I counted every Southern California fish during this dive, which was incredible. Even though conditions were amazing, most of our team performed four dives a day which is definitely admirable. Doing that many dives a day consecutively is exhausting and they did it with smiles on their faces. On the trip home, the ocean rewarded us with 8-10 blue whales during the channel crossing. Thank you again for your support of this project, there is no way we could have done it without you!