ways, diving in the San Benito Islands is not all that different
than diving in Southern California's Channel
Islands -- 40 or 50 years ago! It's not so much that you tend
to see a lot of species that you won't encounter in th Channel
Islands, it's that in the San Benitos you encounter similar species
in simply astounding abundance. Located approximately 275 miles south of San Diego and 50 miles west of
the Baja penninsula, the San Benito Islands offer what can accurately
be deemed the next level of kelp forest diving.
As one might imagine, there is a price to pay to dive such a great distance
from home port. As is the case with Cocos
Island, the price is a very long boat ride. Getting to the
San Benitos requires approximately 25-30 hours, certainly too
long for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. However, those
willing to endure the long trip are rewarded with some truly outstanding diving.
As no more than a few hundred divers visit the islands each year, the
underwater scenery is amazingly pristine. Frequent encounters
with large gamefish such as Yellowtail (Seriola lalandi),
Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) and Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus
albacares) make the area one of the absolute best locations in North America, if not the world, for freediving spearfishing.
Of the few divers that annually visit the islands, less than half dive
on scuba. This means that the reefs and macro life are that much
more untouched. Gorgeous nudibranchs like Felimare ghiselini
(Felimare ghiselini), Porter's Chromodorid (Mexichromis
porterae), Navanax (Navanax inermis) and Three Lined
Aeolid (Flabellina trilineata) can be found on most dives.
Also frequently encountered are California Scorpionfish (Scorpaena
guttata) and Red Gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis).
Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) and Bat Rays (Myliobatis
californica) can be found on virtually every dive zipping through the kelp. There are few experiences in diving as exhilarating, or for that matter
heart-stopping, as turning to say something to your buddy on a
night dive only to realize that your buddy is in reality a 200
lb. sea lion!
species seen on almost every dive is the California Spiny Lobster
(Panulirus interruptus). Hiding out in their holes by day, these
tasty critters wander around by the thousands at night taunting
you with the fact that Americans are only allowed to spearfish,
and not collect shellfish, in Mexican waters. Also commonly encountered
on San Benitos night dives are Shovelnose Guitarfish (Rhinobatos
the Channel Islands offer virtually all of the same species as
the San Benitos, though generally not in such astounding abundance,
there is no avoiding the fact that the tens of thousands of divers
that visit the Channel Islands annually negatively impact the
area. For a taste of what the Channel Islands diving pioneers
experienced 50 years ago, look no further than Baja's San Benitos!