Southern California is known for its beaches, Hollywood and Disneyland, but did you know the waters of the Southern California coast are also home to the giant kelp forests? Kelp forests are areas in the temperate waters of the ocean with a high density of kelp. When the kelp is anchored by a “holdfast,” it is called a kelp bed. Most of my dives take place in the wonderful, temperate waters of California in the kelp beds.
The image above was taken in the kelp beds outside of Santa Barbara Island, one of Southern California’s channel islands. I was lucky enough to be diving with Alex Mustard while he photographed the kelp forest for an upcoming book he is working on. Since this was his first time in the kelp beds of Southern California, he was very enthusiastic about what he was seeing and his enthusiasm was very contagious. I had forgotten how beautiful the kelp beds are, but Alex’s perspective helped me regain the awe I first felt when I began scuba diving. What a powerfully renewing experience!
The kelp beds provide protection and a unique environment for many marine organisms. The giant kelp fish is named for its incredible ability to blend in to the kelp. It can be found waving back and forth with the surge among the kelp leaves looking exactly like a piece of kelp. In the above image, the fish is orange in comparison to the greenish brown of the kelp, but when there is no outside light shining on the fish, it appears the same color as the kelp. This particular fish was guarding a nest of eggs.
The fabulous kelp crab is another animal that lives in the camouflage habitat of the kelp forest. It can be found scurrying high up in the kelp leaves as it tries to avoid being seen.
Sea lions use the kelp to protect themselves from large predators such as sharks that normally do not venture into the kelp beds.
When the kelp canopy reaches the surface, it continues to grow providing a beautiful shady environment for the critters below. Scuba diving in Southern California is like no other diving on earth. The best time to visit the Southern California kelp forests is in the late Summer and Fall from August to November. The waters are generally a little warmer, and less likely to be turbulent, the kelp forest has had all Summer to grow, and the sea lion pups are grown enough to be playful with visiting scuba divers. Bring a 7ml wetsuit or drysuit, and come enjoy the beautiful temperate waters of Southern California!
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