The Yellow Wall of Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island

By September 28, 2021Catalina, Underwater Photography

Farnsworth Banks, the notorious and spectacular offshore seamount on the backside of Catalina Island, offers something I have seen nowhere else in California — an enormous monospecific wall of zoanthid anemones. This single colony is so impressive it has earned itself the moniker “Yellow Wall”, and exhibits some of the most brilliant underwater color anywhere in the Golden State.

Zoanthids are small cnidarians having some of the characteristics of both anemones and corals while being neither. Zoanthids are often found in near-homogenous colonies. Farnsworth Banks hosts two species of zoanthid, both of which are yellow and relatively uncommon. The Luminescent zoanthid, Savalia lucifica, will generally be found parasitizing gorgonians, encrusting and transforming the branches of the gorgonian into a brilliant, fuzzy gold sea fan.

Gorgonian (yellow) that has been parasitized by zoanthid anemone (Savalia lucifica), and red gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis), Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, Parazoanthus lucificum, Savalia lucifica, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis

Gorgonian (yellow) that has been parasitized by zoanthid anemone (Savalia lucifica), and red gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis), Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island.
Image ID: 37185
Species: Luminescent parazoanthid, Zoanthid anemone, Red gorgonian, Parazoanthus lucificum, Savalia lucifica, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Parasitic zoanthid anemones (yellow) cover dead/dying brown gorgonian. Eagle Rock, Muricea fruticosa, Parazoanthus lucificum, Savalia lucifica, Catalina Island

Parasitic zoanthid anemones (yellow) cover dead/dying brown gorgonian. Eagle Rock.
Image ID: 05341
Species: Luminescent parazoanthid, Zoanthid anemone, Muricea fruticosa, Parazoanthus lucificum, Savalia lucifica
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

The true celebrity on the Yellow Wall is Given’s zoanthid (Epizoanthus giveni) named for Dr. Bob Given of the USC-Wrigley Marine Science Center.  Epizoanthus giveni forms encrusting colonial mats on rocky reefs, and colonies can be seen on many of the pinnacles and islets around Catalina Island.  However, the Yellow Wall is a singularly enormous, near-homogenous colony encrusting one of the vertical walls on the east end of Farnsworth Banks, at depths of about 90′ to 120′.  It is awesome.  There are some hydroid clusters and gorgonians interspersed among the zoanthids, but the fact that the entire wall is almost entirely one species and color is truly impressive. (By comparison, when Corynactis californica is found in large mats, it is composed of multiple colors.)  I have seen Epizoanthus giveni elsewhere around Catalina and, I believe, San Clemente Island, but in my experience nowhere else is it found in such a display as that seen on the Yellow Wall.  This year I made a number of successful trips to Farnsworth Banks, and each time I spent a few minutes on the Yellow Wall.  Cheers, and thanks for looking!

The rare yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, in large aggregations on the Yellow Wall at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, Epizoanthus giveni

The rare yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, in large aggregations on the Yellow Wall at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island.
Image ID: 37270
Species: Givens Zoanthid, Epizoanthus giveni
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian Leptogorgia chilensis, purple hydrocoral Stylaster californicus, and yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis, Allopora californica, Stylaster californicus, Epizoanthus giveni

Red gorgonian Leptogorgia chilensis, purple hydrocoral Stylaster californicus, and yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island.
Image ID: 37271
Species: Red gorgonian, Hydrocoral, Givens Zoanthid, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis, Allopora californica, Stylaster californicus, Epizoanthus giveni
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian Leptogorgia chilensis with yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthis giveni, Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, California, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis, Epizoanthus giveni

Red gorgonian Leptogorgia chilensis with yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthis giveni, Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, California.
Image ID: 37269
Species: Red gorgonian, Givens Zoanthid, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis, Epizoanthus giveni
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

The rare yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, in large aggregations on the Yellow Wall at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, Epizoanthus giveni

The rare yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, in large aggregations on the Yellow Wall at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island.
Image ID: 37221
Species: Givens Zoanthid, Epizoanthus giveni
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

The rare yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, in large aggregations on the Yellow Wall at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, Epizoanthus giveni

The rare yellow zoanthid anemone Epizoanthus giveni, in large aggregations on the Yellow Wall at Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island.
Image ID: 37253
Species: Givens Zoanthid, Epizoanthus giveni
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA