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Diving Catalina Island:

Catalina Island overview

Open water:


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Catalina dive site map

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Scuba Diving at Catalina Island, California, USA

Water temperature:

The water temperature averages 15 to 21°C (60 - 70°F). In September the temperature was 24°C (75°F) on the surface but 13°C (55°F) below 30 metres, averaging around 17 - 18°C (62 - 64°F)


Either a drysuit or 7mm semidry. A 5mm wetsuit would be adequate, but at depth you may feel the cold


10 - 15 metres (30 - 50 feet) in the kelp forests, 20 metres + (65 feet) on Farnsworth Bank, 30 metres + (100 feet) in the open ocean

Type of diving:

Kelp forests, reefs, shark diving

Marine life:

Giant kelp, purple Hydrocorals, Southern California sealions, blue, shortfin mako, leopard, horn and soupfin sharks, sunfish, garibaldi, kelp fish, common octopus, California lobsters, black seabass, yellow tail barracuda, bat rays, electric torpedo rays

When to go:

August and September see the warmest water temperatures, so it may be preferable to visit at this time of year

How to get there:

You can take the Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach, LA to Avalon which takes around 1 hours. Watch out for dolphins on your way!

Catalina Island - Courtesy of Carina Hall

If only we were all back on Catalina Island, chilling out with a cold bottle of Pacifico and lime whilst excitedly discussing the fabulous days diving we'd just had and wondering what would be on the agenda the following day.

Santa Catalina is one of eight of Southern California's rocky channel islands, located in the North Pacific about 22 miles (35 km) southwest of San Pedro on the mainland. It is only 21 miles long and 8 miles wide and has a permanent population of about 3,000 and is the only island of the chain to have any permanent settlements. The Catalina folk that live here are best described as similar to an audience you would expect to see on the Oprah Winfrey show. Bizarrely, they pierce their pet dogs' ears with diamond-studded earrings. However they were very welcoming and friendly; I was offered some deer jerky in a bar and even had my portrait drawn for free. If only the poor old man had known I was a Fine Art Graduate. it was terrible! The town of Avalon is a parallel universe with a small population. Its setting is almost reminiscent of a display at Disney World with its bright aqua-green painted pier that is set against the backdrop of rocky highlands. The seafront promenade has an extraordinary selection of shops that are all very dated selling clothes and tack you wouldn't even want to buy your parents. In one shop I found a carved stone mermaid table with a glass top that was so tasteless it was unique - if only I could have taken it home with me!

Monday night in America is football night so get your raffle tickets and win lots of prizes and beer. All the bars have table football, pool and darts that make for fun competitions after diving. There is limited car use on the island so you can hire golf buggies to go in search of bison in the highlands if that takes your fancy. There is also crazy golf is you fancy a game but last entry is at 5pm. Along the seafront in Avalon is an impressive selection of reasonably priced restaurants. There are many selling fish as well as Italian, Mexican and Chinese. The best thing to do (as Avalon is so small) is just to wander along until you find what takes your fancy each night, but be warned: this is America so the portions are large!

The diving around Catalina is absolutely fantastic. It is an odyssey of extremely colourful and varied marine life. During my week here I had dived in a new ocean, met up with a few more species of shark, played with some pinnipeds underwater and experienced the open ocean and kelp forest for the first time. On every dive Garibaldi fish flashed orange amongst the green kelp, reflecting the suns rays as they penetrated through the water. Kelp fish meandered and camouflaged themselves in the kelps leaves and numerous 'cheeky' senorita wrasse actually turned out to be more lethal than the makos! One senorita bit someone's forehead and caused it to bleed! However, I seemed to get on well with them and enjoyed stroking a few. They are very amusing fish to dive with and although you would probably just flick past them in a guide book, they really add to the Californian diving experience.

There is the opportunity to go shark diving in the mid-channel, but success is not always guaranteed. Despite overconfident assurances that we would find sharks, on the first day we found ourselves looking into the big blue with only a few miniscule sardines swimming by. However, the next trip was a success with a feisty female shortfin mako shark smelling the fish bait and spending a few hours in our focus, eyeing us up and moving through the water towards us like a torpedo. She even had a nibble at a camera dome and some tasty fins. A shimmering baby blue shark popped in briefly too.

At Italian Gardens I played hide and seek amongst the kelp with five big black seabass that were over 1.5 metres long! The black seabass is an immensely sized fish and worthy of admiration. There was also an inquisitive horn shark that swam right up to me and almost into my mask! At Ship Rock there were docile angel sharks buried under the sand until we lifted them off the ground by each pectoral fin. They slightly resist at first, but then stay motionless as you hold them up out of their sand bed. It felt a bit wrong as I have never really been keen on handling marine life in such a way, but the sharks didn't seem upset and just settled back in the sand after. We also found very graceful leopard sharks in the shallows, but they glide off into the kelp very quickly. Soupfin sharks can also be found on Catalina's reefs, lurking a bit deeper at the edge of the kelp forests.

Farnsworth Banks is a deep pinnacle covered in strikingly bright purple hydrocorals and sea fans where bat rays sleep and electric torpedo rays hover. Yellowtail barracuda feed on silver baitfish and teeny-striped nudibranchs live on the rocks. Explore the rocky reef crevices for lobsters, black eyed and blue striped gobies, octopuses, keyhole limpets and urchins.

As a piece of advice, don't panic when you get stuck in the kelp. It will easily get twisted around your tank valve, fins or on you at some point particularly if you go off exploring in a dense patch. Just stay still and snap it off to free yourself. I was momentarily tangled in a thick bit of kelp forest at Torques Point, and as I freed myself I was joined by a sealion, passing fleetingly. Another sealion named Kelly mischievously jumped up and sat on the dive boat platform while we are de-kitting at Farnsworth Banks. She had had been swimming around the dive boat for most of the day and was great to watch in between dives and view whilst surfacing. Later in the week she joined us at Garibaldi Reef with a friend in tow.

All in all I had a remarkable time on Catalina and I hope I will have the opportunity to come back one day and dive here again!

Carina Hall, PADI Divemaster

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