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San Clemente Island

The Disappearing Kelp Forests of San Clemente Island

Aerial Photography, California

I was recently diving at San Clemente Island. The profound lack of giant kelp forests was a striking contrast to what I am used to seeing over 25 years of diving at the island. Under ideal conditions, giant kelp can grow about 2′ per day (the fastest growing plant on Earth), but it does require relatively cool water to really flourish. In 2014, water temperatures were higher than normal, leading to poor growth conditions. The kelp has not recovered, and if an El Nino that is predicted to occur in 2015 comes to pass, it is almost certain to cause whatever kelp forests are at the island to recede considerably. Here are two images, from above the southeastern tip of the island (“Pyramid Head”) looking northwest along the axis of the island, shot in September 2010 (top, healthy thick kelp forests appear in brown, from Pyramid Cove in upper left around Pyramid Head point and up the eastern side of the island) and July 2014 (almost total absence of giant kelp forests). These two images are crops, click on either to see the original composition.


See more photos of San Clemente Island, photos of giant kelp forests, and aerial photos. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Asferico Photo Competition Segnalato Il Mondo Subacqueo!

California

I love Italy. And I love photography. What could be better than an Italian Photography competition? Molto Bene! The Asferico photography competition, sponsored by Asferico Magazine in Italy, is an annual display of incredible images by many of the finest photographers in Europe. I have long admired the annual Asferico galleries of winners, and in 2011 I decided to take a crack at the competition with an entry of some photographs. I was very pleased to learn that one of my images, the red gorgonian image shown below, received Segnalato status (Honorable mention? Signal? Not too bad?) recognition in the Il mondo subacqueo (“underwater world”) category, alongside fine competitors from Spain, Hungary, Estonia, England, France and Italy. Was it too much to hope that Tracy and I would be flown to Italy first class, met at the airport by an Italian Vogue supermodel in a convertible Lamborghini who would escort us to the awards celebration followed by a week in the old country masquerading as a internationally celebrated and notorious wildlife paparazzi while sampling Roman chianti and pasta? Alas, yes it was too much to hope for! My image did, however, appear in Asferico Magazine (I believe) and on the competition website, so that is molto bene. Grazie, Asferico Magazine, I will probably enter again next year. Ciao!

Bryozoan grows on a red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Bryozoan grows on a red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25395
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Here is a link to some of the underwater category winners and honored images: http://www.asferico.com/awards3.asp?aaaa_es=2012&cat=B&ID=644

Notice how I subtly inserted just enough Italian words for people who do not know me to think I probably speak great Italian and must be quite worldly and well-travelled?

Giant Kelpfish, Master of Camouflage

California, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

One of my favorite California fishes is the giant kelpfish (Heterostichus rostratus). Giant kelpfish are camouflage masters, blending into the brown and green kelp blades perfectly. Many times I have found myself hovering over a clump of kelp for a few minutes, not aware of a giant kelpfish only a foot or two away from me until it began to swim. As long as they remain stationary in the kelp, swaying back and forth with the kelp, they are nearly invisible. Cool fish!

A giant kelpfish swims over Southern sea palms and a kelp-covered reef, mimicing the color and pattern of the kelp leaves perfectly, camoflage, Heterostichus rostratus, San Clemente Island

A giant kelpfish swims over Southern sea palms and a kelp-covered reef, mimicing the color and pattern of the kelp leaves perfectly, camoflage.
Image ID: 25414
Species: Giant kelpfish, Southern Sea Palm, Heterostichus rostratus
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05142
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05140
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Sea Fans and Gorgonians at San Clemente Island

California, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Photos of gorgonians and sea fans at San Clemente Island.

I spent three days diving at one of my favorite spots on Earth: San Clemente Island. The island, about 60 miles offshore of southern California, is home to some of the world’s most beautiful kelp forests. Swimming through these kelp forests is akin to flying through a forest of towering redwoods. Below the tall kelp plants are rocky reefs where gorgonians, also known as sea fans, anchor themselves. Gorgonians are filter feeders, and spread their long slender arms out into the currents where individual polyps will catch and eat organic debris and plankton that floats by in the current. I have a few favorite reefs at San Clemente Island where I know I will always find magnificent examples of gorgonians, several feet in diameter and exhibiting healthy polyps and rich colors. My goal on this trip was to shoot a few good images of the several species that are commonly found at San Clemente Island: red gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis), California golden gorgonian (Muricea californica), and brown gorgonian (Muricea fruticosa).

Bryozoan grows on a red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Bryozoan grows on a red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25395
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25393
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, underwater. The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Muricea californica, San Clemente Island

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, underwater. The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25397
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Brown gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  Gorgonians are filter-feeding temperate colonial species that live on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep.  Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Muricea fruticosa, San Clemente Island

Brown gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. Gorgonians are filter-feeding temperate colonial species that live on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by
Image ID: 25398
Species: Brown gorgonian, Muricea fruticosa
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25394
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

A few photographic notes: these images were all shot with a 15mm fisheye lens and two submersible lights. Certain colors, suchs as reds, oranges and yellows, effectively disappear below about 10′ deep. Submersible lights are used to bring out the color and detail in these gorgonians, which in the available light would appear colorless and drab at these depths. The water in California tends to have particles floating in it and consequently is not as clear as water in the tropics. To minimize the degree to which poor water clarity adversely impacts the photograph, I get as close as possible to my subject. In these photos, my camera is only about 6-10 inches from the gorgonians, so a very wide lens is required in order to depict the entire sea fans. These images were taken at depths from about 45′ to 70′, all of them at the southern end of San Clemente Island. In all of them, the camera is pointed almost straight up toward the surface, so that some of the sunlight and kelp forest that rises above these gorgonians can be depicted. I hold my breath to make sure my bubbles don’t get in the photo.

California Golden Gorgonian, Muricea californica

California, Catalina, Marine Life

The California golden gorgonian (Muricea californica) is a common gorgonian species in southern California. It is typically found growing on rocky reefs from 40′ to 200′ deep. The California golden gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of individual polyps, each of which secretes calcium to form the structure of the colony. The individual polyps feed on plankton and detritus floating by in the current. The fan-shaped colony is usually oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to optimize this filter feeding. Most of my photos of California golden gorgonians were taken at San Clemente Island and Catalina Island, two of the beautiful Channel Islands offshore of southern California.

California Golden gorgonian polyps.  The golden gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of tiny polyps. Each polyp secretes calcium which accumulates to form the structure of the colony. The fan-shaped gorgonian is oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to better enable to filter-feeding polyps to capture passing plankton and detritus passing by, Muricea californica, San Clemente Island

California Golden gorgonian polyps. The golden gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of tiny polyps. Each polyp secretes calcium which accumulates to form the structure of the colony. The fan-shaped gorgonian is oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to better enable to filter-feeding polyps to capture passing plankton and detritus passing by.
Image ID: 03481
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

California Golden gorgonian in kelp forest, Muricea californica, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

California Golden gorgonian in kelp forest.
Image ID: 03486
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Garibaldi and golden gorgonian, with a underwater forest of giant kelp rising in the background, underwater, Muricea californica, Hypsypops rubicundus, Catalina Island

Garibaldi and golden gorgonian, with a underwater forest of giant kelp rising in the background, underwater.
Image ID: 23432
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Hypsypops rubicundus
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep.  Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Muricea californica, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 23439
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Garibaldi and California golden gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep.  Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Muricea californica, Hypsypops rubicundus, San Clemente Island

Garibaldi and California golden gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 23443
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Hypsypops rubicundus
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

See my full collection of photos of California golden gorgonians and photos of Muricea californica.

Keywords: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, underwater, California, sea fan.