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   Scuba Diving in San Diego
Date:12/14/04  By Editorial

San Diego has a lot to offer divers; sunken ships, kelp forests, colorful reefs, deep water submarine canyons and diverse marine life can all be found off the shores of "America's Finest City".

The reefs here are very different from the coral reefs of the Caribbean, but in many cases they're just as full of life.

juvenile garibaldi
© 2002, Joe Belanger
Juvenile Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus)

a photo of a diver looking up at the sunlight penetrating the kelp canopy
© 2004
A diver looks up at the sunlight penetrating the kelp canopy

Coastal California diving is often best known for its kelp forests. Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) grows on rocky reef areas with fronds reaching up to the surface sometimes 100' in length. These plants create an underwater forest environment and are host to a diverse ecosystem with a truly unique beauty. The reefs here are very different from the coral reefs of the Caribbean, but in many cases they're just as full of life. Kelp forests can be found all along the coast of San Diego, with concentrated beds in Point Loma and La Jolla.

If you want to dive on shipwrecks, you should know that San Diego has its own "Wreck Alley" including the Canadian destroyer HMCS Yukon, the Coast Guard cutter Ruby E. and the old kelp harvester El Rey...all within recreational diving limits. There are also several military wrecks from various eras, including a World Ward II P-38 bomber, a modern F-14 aircraft at least two submarines. It's easy to get a dive charter boat trip to Wreck Alley, but finding someone to take you to the other wrecks might be a challenge as the wreck locations are a well-kept secret; locals are very secretive about certain wreck coordinates (to keep them from the looters among other things).

For deep divers, two of the World's most studied underwater "submarine" canyons are located in San Diego county. The La Jolla and Scripps canyons are within swimming distance of the shore in La Jolla California, accessible from several public beaches including La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove. Usually boat travel would be required for divers wanting to reach greater depths, but in La Jolla a relatively short surface swim will put divers above deep water. For this reason, La Jolla Shores is a popular training area for advanced and "tech" divers.

A great diversity of marine life can be found in the waters off San Diego. A list would be far too exhaustive for this article, but depending on the area, divers are likely to see California sea lions, lobster, rockfish, kelp bass, opaleye, senoritas, halibut, and some larger pelagics. Of note, the bright orange California state fish (Garibaldi) is common in local kelp forests. The juvenille version with it's neon blue markings rivals the beauty of any fish in the world.

There are hundreds of things for divers to do on their surface intervals (hint: also for the non-diving spouse). Popular tourist attractions include the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Sea World, Old Town, the historic Gaslamp District, the Cabrillo National Monument, Legoland California and several others. San Diego has everything a major city can offer and a better climate than most.

San Diego weath is usuall very comfortable- coastal surface conditions are usually very mild with temperatures averaging in the mid 70's in the summer and mid 60's in the winter. There is typically less than ten inches of rainfall per year. Water temperatures are cooler averaging in the mid 60's during summer months and low 60's in the winter, making a wetsuit or drysuit a necessity. Visibility tends to be best in September and October and has been reported up to 60', but averages from 10' to 20'.

San Diego is known internationally for being a great place to surf, so calm water divers be advised. As always, divers should have proper training and orientation as appropriate to locations they plan to dive. Experience with surf, kelp, and lower-visibility diving is helpful in San Diego. For more information, please contact the San Diego City Lifeguards, or a local dive training center.

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