TBT – What to do with decommissioned Oil Rigs In California?

The future ex-oil rig Holly.

On April 17th, Venoco oil announced that they would be ceasing operations on platform Holly, which lies about 2 miles offshore of UCSB in the Santa Barbara Channel.  Because the rig is in California state waters, the California State Lands Commission has ordered a complete removal of the rig and capping of the well and restoration of the site to as natural a state as is possible. While this is seen as a big victory by many environmental groups, there are quite a few voices in the ocean community that see leaving some or all of the underwater structure as a way to preserve a unique and burgeoning ecosystem.

Holly holding bait fish in abundance during the 1970’s. Photo and copyright by Bob Evans.

Established when these rigs were first constructed in the 60’s and 70’s, extensive and complex ecosystems flourish underneath the platforms that lie just off California’s coast. As evidenced in studies, it is fairly well agreed that these rig reefs produce large amount of biomass comparable to any marine fish habitats globally. 

So the question is, should we accept the trade-off of keeping some structure in place to preserve these unique ecosystems? I think there is a good argument to do just that. For Throwback Thursday, I’m presenting some pictures of rig Holly from the 1970’s when the amazing animal and plant  communities were first being discovered by local divers. Taken by Bob Evans, founder, creator, and the “force” behind the Force Fin, these great photos give an early glimpse into what many people now regard as one of the richest undersea communities you’ll likely encounter.

For more information on the process of conversion, visit the folks at Blue Latitudes and  Rigs to Reef. Also, special thanks to Bob Evans for giving us a cool glimpse into the life under the rigs.

In this day and age where science is under attack and pristine wild spaces are under threat, the chance to save something so special is something we need to consider. Take a look at these amazing photos and I think you’ll agree.

We’ll see see you out there.


A variety of fish sitting inside the structure of Holly at 120 feet, which is covered by metridium and scallops. Photo and copyright by Bob Evans.
This is an aquaculture experiment conducted under Holly to test the potential to grow out red abalone. Come for the shellfish and stay for the groovy retro 70’s dive gear. Photo and copyright by Bob Evans.


Today is the first World Tuna Day, celebrating one of our most important fish. With over 80 countries worldwide having tuna fishing fleets, these “lions of the ocean” supply food security and nutrition, economic development, employment, government revenue, livelihoods, culture and recreation to millions of people across the globe.

All is not rosy for tuna though. There are major declines in tuna stock which threaten many different stakeholders, not the least of which is the tuna themselves.

Some groups are asking that you celebrate by not eating tuna today but I think your time could be better spent reading this letter from the Pew Foundation which gives a frank assessment of the the challenges tuna face moving forward and some successes that scientist and fishery managers are having as they look to protect them.

A lot to  think about but I think Tuna are worth it. See you out there.

Fish Friday – Rock Greenling

On any given dive in the kelp forests of northern California, divers have a surprisingly slim chance to encounter this shy kelp inhabitant.  One of the prettiest fish on the rocky reefs, rock greenling are also one of the most cryptic, living in cracks and crevices waiting for their next meal to come along.  Growing to 24 inches and living for up to 11 years, this fish is seldom seen by divers south of San Francisco but those that do find it are treated to a colorful scheme of mottled bright red and brownish/red blotched sides. One of the coolest fish you’ll encounter, it has nothing to be shy about. So when you’re out there, take an extra moment to look into the dark. You might just be greeted by the blue smile of the rock greenling, our subtidal hide-and-seek champ.

See you out there.

Shellfish Saturday – Sheep Crab

Photo by P. Colla

Okay divers, here comes Shellfish Saturday. Why Shellfish Saturday? Because I love alliteration and time marches on for the California diving lifestyle. Sheep crab is our first installment in what will prove to be a most likely irregular feature on CFD. These spider crabs range from Point Reyes in the north all the way down the Baja Sur peninsula. They are large and in charge for any of you that might have seen them on your undersea adventures with a carapace that can grow to 6 inches and a claw-to-claw span of over 2 feet.

There was once a multi-million dollar fishery for the sheep crab, specifically their claws, but it fell by the wayside in the early 90’s when gill and trammel nets were banned in California waters. Today it is considered by-catch for the most part and apparently spends a great deal of it’s time threatening divers who happen to swim up on them.

So much anger….

Keep your eye out for them when you’re cruising the sandy shallows around the reefs or in some of the submarine canyons that we drop down in to up and down the coast.. They are a real treat to see.

See you out there.

Fish Friday – Sheephead

A juvenile sheephead is a pretty little girl.

This weeks foray into the kelp forest presents us with one of the most versatile and important residents of California’s nearshore waters, the Sheephead. A large member of the wrasse family, this hermaphroditic species feeds mainly on urchins and other shellfish, keeping populations in check and rocky reefs healthy. These guys are considered a fairly vulnerable species to the pressures of recreational fishing with mainly large males being targeted, resulting in an imbalance in the populations male-to-female ratio when it’s time to reproduce. Next time you’re out there and you come across a large urchin barren, such as the ones you find off Palos Verdes, look around for Sheephead. Then look some more. You probably won’t find many. Healthy Sheephead populations mean healthier reefs and kelp forests. The more you know.

A large male takes care of a purple urchin.
A female swimming by a red gorgonian.




San Diego’s Tuna Town is moving forward while looking back

Three-pole fishing for albacore

For over 40 years, starting in the 1920’s, San Diego was the Tuna capital of the the world. With a massive fleet of fishing boats and a complex of processing plants supplying tuna to a hungry world, the fishery was the third-largest employer in San Diego to only the US Navy and the aerospace industry. It was truly a way of life for mid-century San Diegans. The good times didn’t last however. With the end of WWII, major corporations started buying out the local processors and alienating the independent fishermen. Japanese imports further eroded the market and concerns over dolphins made the move to offshore fishing cheaper, driving the final nail in the coffin for what was once the late, great Tuna Town. by 1984 it was all but over.

Today, there isn’t much left of Tuna Town. Bumblebee Tuna has it’s corporate HQ there and a sustainable pole-and-line fishery has emerged but most of what the industry was is gone. But not forgotten. Catalina Offshore Products, a 40 year veteran of seafood supply in San Diego, just announced the launch of a line of sustainably U.S. caught “choice” canned tuna line. With a “catch to can” concept, the line promises to deliver a safer and better managed product for the fishery. It also brings a little reminder of what tuna fishing was like in San Diego when big, fast fish ran the town.

Enjoy the video below from the golden age of tuna fishing in California.


Fish Friday – Chinook Salmon

This is kind of a special Fish Friday. Normally, here at CFD,  we highlight fish that divers are likely to see. This is kind of a special occasion however as I ran across an interesting article in the Western Outdoor News about a lonely and apparently very lost Chinook Salmon being caught and released in Santa Monica Bay last week.

The largest of the Pacific salmon, Chinooks can grow to up to 135 pounds during their years at sea before returning to spawn in their home streams and rivers. They are highly sought after game fish and certain runs, such as winter run Chinooks in the Sacramento River,  are even ESA listed. The species range doesn’t include any Southern California rivers so what this guy was doing here is a mystery and apparently the reporter who wrote the story forgot to ask. Fake news with cool fish.

Have a great weekend and we’ll see you out there.

Click here to visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife page to learn more about this wide ranging salmonid.

Fish Friday – Giant Sea Bass

Stereolepis gigas is truly the King of the Reef. Anyone that’s ever encountered one under the kelp canopy knows. Ranging up to 8 feet from tip to tail and over 5oo lbs, these gentle giants have become more commonly encountered by divers since the the end of gill netting in 1994.  That is a great thing to say the least. So hail to the King. Thank you very much.

Photo by P. Colla

Ocean Science and Abalone and why trying to bring them back isn’t shellfish

Red abalone by Peter Haaker, fisheries biologist California Department of Fish and Game

It’s hard to imagine that at one time abalone were as thick as 70’s shag carpet on the rocky reefs of California. Native American coastal tribes, not having actual 70’s shag carpet, gathered them as a staple of their diet and culture. Excavated shell mounds marked the sites of tribal villages along the coastline. Later, Asian immigrants established major fish camps as they started to dive the local shallows in pursuit of this shelled delicacy which later developed into a major commercial fishery after World War 2. In fact, at the peak of the commercial fishery in the 1960’s, California commercial fishermen were landing 4.6 million pounds annually. This was a true ocean love story. Boy meets ab. Boy harvests and sells ab. People saute and then eat ab. It was an ocean fishery success that no one thought could ever end until it did. Serial depletion and natural phenomenon made an unholy alliance that combined to crash the fishery starting in the 1980’s , shutting it down commercially statewide and recreationally south of Pt. Yankee by the mid 90’s.As an end result, over 25 years worth of divers were certified in Southern California not knowing what an abalone was because they’ve never seen one.

As far as biological extinctions go, this one produced mixed results. Die hards could still take them recreationally along the isolated and intimidating north coast. Southern and Central California kind of moved on with both commercial and recreational endeavors becoming more focused on the spiny lobster and red urchin. It was almost as if everyone just kind of threw up their hands and said “okay, what’s next?”

Almost everyone.

It started as kind of a hail Mary. What if we could restore the fishery? What do we need to know to make this happen? How do we then physically do it?  Reseeding hundreds of miles of nearshore habitat with a enough abalone to produce a viable broadcast spawning population seemed, on the surface, pretty far fetched (***Broadcast spawning means all the abs throw their stuff in the air(or water) like they just don’t care and hope there is opposite sex genetic material getting expelled close enough to connect.)

This is when necessity called in those that can try to make it happen. This is when necessity called in the scientists.

Right now in California, there is an amazing array of scientists working on restoration of the abalone population. Work is being done by federal agencies, state institutions, and non profits to study and ultimately restore this missing part of today’s kelp forest landscape. Listed below are just a few of the projects going on that you should know about that are working to make our nearshore waters a healthier, and more importantly, and  a more balanced place. So read a paragraph, learn a little, and think a lot about the types of programs and science you should be supporting. The ocean you save could be your own. See you out there.


With the collapse of multiple species of abs, there has been the obvious question of what’s first? In California, the white abalone is the first invertebrate to be placed on the Federal Endangered Species list. NOAA scientist are currently studying the collapse of this deeper water ab and collecting brood stock to replenish the population.


In a joint effort between NOAA and The Santa Monica Bay Foundation, as well as support from The Nature Conservancy, scientist are working to develop methodology and facilities needed to restore abalone in the southern California bight.



Ab Logo Final Green 110909 copy

A very cool and ambitious program that not only is striving to restore native green abalone populations in southern California, but also to create the education component that will help Californians understand why they should care about abalone and why they are important to our oceans health. Here is a great read from the Orange County Register about the great work Nancy Caruso at Orange County’s Get Inspired  is doing.


Return of the King

Stereolepis gigas doesn’t sound much like a king’s name. It sounds more like someone you’re going to buy a gyro from. Don’t be deceived however because this is is the scientific handle of one of the most magnificent creatures you’re likely to encounter diving here in California — the Giant Sea Bass(GSB).

kingAptly named because it is actually quite giant, this highly protected species seems to be making a bit of a comeback from it’s darkest day in the early 80’s when California DFG(now the DFW) officials were scrambling to protect this vulnerable and venerable giant from rod and spear. Following a ban on gill netting in nearshore waters in 1994, sightings increased and  casual observations over the past 10 to 15 years seem to indicate that this king of the kelp forest is making a comeback. To get real answers, GSB turned to real scientists and the process of collecting relevant data has been carried out in earnest. As a result, we now know a lot more about the life cycle of the GSB than we ever did before and are therefore better equipped to conserve this magnificent creature. One of the lead scientist in the study of Giant Sea bass, Dr. Larry Allen, Biology department Chair at Cal State Northridge and leading GSB expert, is giving a presentation at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium on February 3 to discuss what we now know about the GSB and  their chances for recovery. Presented by Alta Sea, this a great chance to learn more about our impact on the animals of the kelp forest and how we can make a difference through community based programs such as the Giant Sea Bass Collective organized through a joint program between CSUN and UCSB. It looks to be a great evening and best of all it’s free. So don’t be a uniformed bump on the log. Get out of the rain and down to San Pedro. We look forward to seeing you out there.

Discovery Lecture Series
presented by AltaSea and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Friday, February 03, 2017
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

The Return of the Kelp Forest King

By Dr. Larry G. Allen, California State University, Northridge

Larry is currently Chair and Professor of Biology at California State University Northridge. He has co-authored and edited many publications on the biogeography and ecology of marine fishes of the Pacific coast of North America including the books, “The Ecology of Marine Fishes: California and Adjacent Waters” and “A Field Guide to the Coastal Fishes from Alaska to California.” Dr. Allen will discuss the information that he and his graduate students have compiled on the demise and recent return of the apex predator of California’s southern kelp forests, the Giant Sea Bass, Stereolepis gigas.

Click here for teacher resources related to this lecture.

Please RSVP to: lecture@cmaqua.org

Copyright (c) Phillip Colla, all rights reserved worldwide