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Scuba Diving in Santa Catalina Island, California

Catalina Island, or Santa Catalina Island, is a rocky island in the Gulf of Santa Catalina in the Pacific Ocean. Although it originally lacked terrestrial life, the island is now renowned for its wildlife. Today, Catalina Island is home to over fifty endemic species and subspecies. Over one million tourists visit the island each year; many of them enjoying the glass bottom boat tours over the reefs and shipwrecks, but the area is also popular among local scuba divers.

Catalina Island Diving Info

Catalina Island provides many diving possibilities thanks to the numerous offshore rocks. Plus, there are numerous shipwrecks for experienced divers and easy kelp explorations. The island is home to a diverse array of subtidal marine habitats, but the most frequently visited one has to be the kelp forest.

kelp forest

When to Visit

Catalina Island is best dived from July to December.

Water Temperature

During the summer months, the surface water temperature around Catalina Island ranges between 20 and 22° C (68-72° F).


The best visibility around Catalina Island can be found from September to November when it can reach 18 meters (60 feet). Otherwise, the visibility is usually around 12 meters (40 feet).

Types of Diving

  • Kelp diving
  • Wreck diving
  • Wall diving
  • Drift diving

Catalina Island Diving Highlights

Giant Kelp Forests

The immense kelp forests can be found everywhere around Catalina Island. The kelp rises up to 20 meters (65 feet) from the sea bottom to the surface. Giant bladder kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) which is the largest known species of algae makes up most of the island’s kelp ecosystem. Using a holdfast, a root-like structure, kelp secure themselves to the seafloor and the leaves get suspended in the water thanks to a series of gas-filled bladders. These enormous algae forests are home to a huge variety of marine animals.

The Purple Hydrocoral

Although most corals are found in tropical waters and Catalina is found in the temperate zone of the ocean, a handful of non-reef-building can be found here. A popular destination for fishers and divers off Catalina’s Windward Beach is Farnsworth Bank. There lies a beautiful underwater ecosystem that’s home to the purple hydrocoral. Catalina Island’s rare purple hydrocoral, Stylaster californicus, is a stunning stony oral of a vibrant purple or blue hue that’s a real treat for underwater photographers. In 1972, the island declared the purple hydrocoral was a protected species.

Marine Animals

garibaldi fish
Garibaldi fish. Photo by Ed Bierman

Catalina Island has some of the most diverse underwater life in Southern California. Some of the fish that can be seen here include the Garibaldi – California’s marine state fish, the California sheephead, Mola mola, green moray eel, bat ray, leopard shark. Sea lions are also often seen around the island.

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