By Katie Kozma, Reef Check California Southern California Training Coordinator
The morning after a wonderful evening celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Reef Check Foundation, Reef Check Board Member Chris Glaeser, Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson and I set out to Catalina Island with our Gala Honorees for a day of diving at Casino Point Dive Park. Little did we know what a huge surprise the ocean had in store for us that day!
Our honorees, all based out of tropical locations, had never done any cold water diving and had never seen the beauty of a kelp forest before. Our goal was to have them experience both before they headed back home to tropical waters. We had seen evidence of kelp returning to the Dive Park during our survey in early July, so our hope was that it would still be there, and we were in luck!
At the Dive Park, we suited up amid much grumbling about bulky wetsuits and submerged for our first dive of the day. The water was calm, clear and warm. We were greeted by a green sea turtle at about 40ft and a total of six giant black sea bass swam through the kelp, three of which we saw at the same time! This is extremely rare, and exciting for our honorees and Reef Check staff.
At 2.5m and over 500lbs, the giant black sea bass Sterolepis gigas is the largest bony fish found in shallow rocky reef communities of California and they're listed as a critically endangered species by IUCN. They were recreationally and commercially fished for much of the 20th century and this led to a severe decline in the population. In 1982, the state banned taking black sea bass and there has been an increase in the number of juvenile black sea bass reported caught and released. When we did our Casino Point survey in early July, we encountered one giant black sea bass on site and many recreational diver reports from Casino Point in the past few months have mentioned multiple sightings of black sea bass around the area. Fishermen report seeing groups of black sea bass living around the island, a sign that this species is starting to make a comeback in California.
We would like to thank Chris Glaeser and Colleen Wisniewski for organizing and leading this trip.
References: Hawk, H. and L. G. Allen 2014. Age and Growth of the Giant Black Sea Bass, Sterolepis gigas CalCOFI Rep., Vol. 55.