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Scuba Diving Site: San Clemente Island

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San Clemente Island is the southernmost island in the Channel Islands chain. The island was named by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who spotted it on November 23, 1602, which is celebrated as Saint Clement's feast day.

Vizcaino, however was not the first to step foot on the island – it was home to a thriving band of the Chumash Indians for some time. Throughout the 19th and 20th century it was used by the military, ranchers and at times by smugglers.

Located approximately 65 miles west of San Diego, San Clemete is treasured by divers and ocean enthusiasts alike. Like all of the Channel Isands, San Clemente was once a part of the California coast until geologic movement caused it to separate and move out to sea. While Clemente has all the elements of a coastal dive, including massive kelp forests it is also awash in clear, clean nutrient rich offshore water. Additionally, because of its relatively remote location San Clemente has far less traffic than coastal sites.

At 21 miles long by 4.5 miles wide, San Clemente offers plenty of underwater territory to explore. From sheer walls to vast kelp forests there is virtually no end to the variety of terrain available here. Often, water clarity is in excess of 60 feet making San Clemente a must dive for photo enthusiasts.

At the eastern end of the island lies Pyramid Cove, host to several of Clemente's more prominent sites. The cove is approximately 5 miles wide, and because of its orientation often provides shelter from afternoon winds. Pyramid Cove is also home to the island's most expansive kelp beds. Well fed by the rich offshore water flowing into the cove, this kelp thrives as do the creatures that call it home. In spring and summer months gamefish including Yellowtail and White Seabass are a common site here, especially for the observant diver. While gliding stealthily amongst the kelp stalks it is not uncommon to see vast schools of these fish swimming by. Divers may also be surprised to find a harbor seal or California Sea Lion accompanying them on their journey. Towards the bottom divers will find varying topography. The cove is home to several ‘boiler rocks' that reach all the way to the surface. These rocks create a natural playground for divers wishing to explore arches, caves and other interesting natural formations. Additionally, these rocks are home to myriad sea creatures. California Spiny Lobsters can be found in most of the cracks and crevices in hard bottom areas. Often, these lobsters are stacked three or four high and holes can hold in excess of 100 ‘bugs'. Divers will also find Sheephead, Blacksmith Perch and Calico Bass in great abundance. For shark and ray enthusiasts, be on the look out for both horn and swell sharks as they make their way along the bottom and through the rocks. Bat Rays are also a common sight at San Clemente – some in excess of six feet. For those interested in smaller sea life, be on the lookout for the Catalina Goby – one of the islands more colorful inhabitants. Norris Top Snails can also be found in and amongst the kelp.

At the other end of the island lies Northwest Harbor, home to the USS Butler, a Naval destroyer which lies in 80 plus feet on a sandy bottom. The Koka, a 156 foot Navy Tug also lies in Northwest Harbor, though as a result of Naval activity neither vessel is in pristine condition. On certain trips divers can explore this protected harbor and the remains of these ships. As San Clemente is a Naval island, remnants of Naval activity can be found along certain parts of the island.

Further down the leeward side are more sites including Fish Hook and Little Flower – so named for the topography of the area. Both of these sites boast great wall diving in flat calm conditions. Often, because of the protected nature of these spots, the water is warmer than other locations. Observant divers here may spot Octopus, Rock Scallops and even an Abalone clinging to the rocks.

While San Clemente Island is indeed a scuba diver's paradise, it is also a prime destination for sport divers eager to test their skills. Yellowtail and White Seabass are worthy adversaries for even the most skilled underwater fisherman. Fortunately, because of its fantastic conditions and robust environment San Clemente increases the odds for a successful day. During the season Lobster diving is a favorite here and the sandy beaches are often ideal for large halibut up to 40 pounds. Divers may have a chance encounter with the legendary Black Sea Bass here as well. Often approaching 200 lbs., these fish are truly incredible to behold – please remember they are a protected species and take away only pictures.