Most people think of open water, oceans and colourful coral when they think of scuba diving, but kelp forests are becoming increasingly popular as diving destinations purely because they’re so unique.
What to know about diving in kelp forests in California
Kelp is large green and brown coloured algae that grows tall, hanging like giant canopies over your head as you dive, giving the most surreal feeling. The kelp provides shelter and food for thousands of different species so there’s always a chance of seeing something quite spectacular that regular scuba diving doesn’t offer.
Most kelp forests are protected because they grow in nutrient rich waters, and attract the likes of whales, sea otters, gulls, seals and sea lions; along with thousands of different types of fish and small underwater invertebrates.
There are many kelp forests located on the coast of Southern California, from San Diego to Santa Cruz. This is not the only location of kelp forests– there are many throughout Alaska, but the water there is a lot colder and not as great for diving.
The locations of the kelp are at Sandhill Bluff, MacAbee, Jalama, Hopkins, Purisima, Anacapa and Pelican Bay. When you’re travelling around sunny CA make sure to give a quick visit to one of these locations.
What to bring with you when diving here
A wetsuit is usually a good place to start as the water of kelp forests is always quite cold. It’s best to avoid having anything hanging off of you or your snorkel as it can grab and pull onto kelp so remove anything from your suit that could get you tangled.
Bring a full pony bottle, the kelp will be overhead and you will be fully submerged. If you’ve never dived with secondary air supply before, please look into doing diving lessons as it can be quite complex. Also, many divers take knives and weight belts to prevent from getting wrapped around the kelp – it can happen!
Tips that will help you while diving in kelp forests
Diving in kelp forests is very different to open water diving. You have to be precise when you enter to prevent you from becoming tangled.
When descending, don’t step straight off the boat; you must look for an opening and always look down before you descend. Kelp doesn’t always grow to the water’s surface, so openings can often be deceiving.
Attempt to descend vertically as it will prevent you from getting snagged and always look around once you have entered the water. From there you can decide on a clear path so that you don’t get stuck anywhere.
Use your hands out in front of you, palms outward to spread gaps in the kelp for you to swim through. Always try not turn too much as you swirl water around and give kelp the chance to move and become tangled. Remember you’re swimming in an underwater jungle and so getting tangled is really life or death. There have been reports of divers drowning because of being tangled in kelp so ensure you have a buddy. Keep an eye out for one another.
When ascending, look for an opening and swim vertically. If you find that you have ascended up into the canopy of the kelp, descend and reascend horizontally.
Keep in mind when you’re diving that the sun is the number one source of energy that helps kelp grow, so it’s naturally thicker closer to the top. If you dive towards the bottom, the kelp will hang overhead rather than all around you and it will be easier to swim.
Guided dives and diving schools
Going on a guided dive or practicing through a diving school is highly recommended when diving in kelp forests. In open water, you are prepared to dive where there are clearings and you’re taught to ascend slowly, but in kelp there are a lot more rules.
There are a few schools you can book through, especially in California as there are so many kelp diving locations.
One to consider is the Ocean Adventures Diving Co, as they offer a range of options and have price listings dependant on the number of divers. More information on their diving options here.