California Kelp Forests

There is an underwater forest off the coast of California. The trees of this forest are Giant Kelp plants. These plants are secured to the sea bed by holdfasts and can grow up to 80 feet tall. The stipe, which extends from the holdfast to the surface, has gas bladders which keep it upright in the water. The plants create a excellent environment for many forms of life and seals and otters are common in the kelp forests. They also provide a marvellous diving experience. Swimming high through the sunlit fronds of a kelp forest is like flying like a bird through the trees of a forest on land.

The kelp forests are found along the coast of Southern California and can be dived from the shore. I have dived with otters in one off Cannery Row in Monterey. However, the best forests are found around the Channel Islands. The water there is clear and deep and this allows the plants to grow much longer. This creates a more spectacular diving environment and the underwater visibility can be excellent. At the right time of the year [August through to October] it can be 60-70 feet.

I would rate the Channel Islands as one of my top three dive locations [the other two being the underwater caves of the Yucatan and the Great Barrier Reef]. It provides a completely different experience to reef diving and is an excellent thing to do if you have a few days stopover at LAX on your way from the UK to Australia or New Zealand.

It is easy to dive the Channel Islands. Several large, live aboard, dive boats operate out of Santa Barbara, and out of San Pedro, the nearest port to Los Angeles. There are also plenty of dive shops where equipment can be hired, including the necessary full wet suit. Kelp plants do not like temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit and water temperatures range from cool to cold. The dive shops will also provide a complete package of equipment and dive boat bookings.

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