Seal of Approval

One of the best reasons to dive Catalina is the variety: the variety of animals, the variety of dive sites, the variety of underwater terrain. If you want to explore a kelp forest, or search the sandy areas for bat rays, or look deep into rocky crags for eels, it’s all available at Catalina—sometimes in one dive site!
Over Labor Day weekend, the Barnacle Busters took a group of newly certified divers, students and long-time members aboard the Cee Ray for another fantastic summer day. We were all eagerly waiting for our first dive; some had new cameras to test out, some had new computers or masks they were breaking in. I was eager too, but that didn’t stop me from climbing into a bunk for an hour-long snooze on the way to the island after a hearty breakfast!
Our first stop was Johnson’s Rock and the kelp forest there was something to behold! After seeing these areas just a few short years ago with zero kelp, it’s such a huge relief to see them thriving and strong again. We spent our whole dive in the forest, working our way along the rocky edge where it was exceptionally healthy. I stopped to have a deeper look and was rewarded with a juvenile spotted shark sleeping under a rocky overhang. There were plenty of abalone around as well, so I took a moment to feed one some kelp.
From there we moved to Black Rock and our surface interval was spent munching down on some Monkey Bread, a Cee Ray specialty! Yum … Black Rock happens to be one of those all-in-one dive sites. There are the sandy areas, the rocky crags, the kelp forest, pretty much everything something for everyone.
This dive started a bit awkwardly with some computer failure and other malfunctions threatening to abort the dive. I took one buddy back to the surface and then went back for the others, but they had left the spot where I had left them (they had malfunctions of their own as it turned out). I decided to circle the area for signs of them and felt a tug on my fin. Thinking it might be one of my buddies, I turned to find a Harbor Seal looking at me like he wanted to play. I grabbed my GoPro and got it rolling as I tried to follow the seal through the kelp. It was too fast for me, so I switched off the camera and headed back to where I was and then I saw the seal again below me turning over abalone shells, looking for a meal. I switched the camera back on, and the seal gave me a little show, not at all bashful like others I’d seen at Catalina. After a few minutes and a couple more tugs on my fins, the seal left, on to more distractions. But I was exhilarated!
Once we were all on board, we discussed our various gear misfortunes and misunderstandings and made plans for the next dive, which would also be at Black Rock. While variety is a big bonus, sometimes there are good reasons to stay and dive at the same site. In this case, other sites we had looked at along the way had currents that would have made the diving difficult, so best to stay where the conditions are best. Plus, I may get to see that little seal again! While the seal was a no-show for round two, we still saw plenty: a shy-but-curious octopus, several bat rays hovering by, a few juvenile sharks napping and a ton of sea hares!
Back on board we ate dessert and had video show-and-tell on our laptops before retiring to the bunks for a ride-home snooze.
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Who’s Got the Marshmallows?

To me, the humble S’more is the heartbeat of any camping trip. Without it, the weekend would be an empty shell. Luckily, we had plenty of ‘em around Saturday night’s campfire at Leo Carrillo State Beach. We had milk chocolate s’mores and dark chocolate s’mores and strawberry s’mores, all to top off a fabulous dinner supplied by our own Alex Collett.

But the weekend wasn’t just about the food. No, it was about camaraderie, friendship, sunsets and beachcombing. One thing I love about diving is how it brings together people of all demographics. Lawyers and dancers, students and forest rangers, musicians and therapists, veterinarians and computer geeks all sitting around a blazing fire pit, laughing and swapping tales.

Saturday and Sunday found most of us on the beach searching for sea glass, seashells, agates and other interesting rocks. The perfect weather lent itself to beachcombing: blue skies, cooling breeze and small surf. Last winter’s storms eroded a lot of the beach, leaving broad stretches of water worn stones, a hunter’s paradise.

Waves were small enough for easy surf entries, but only Matt Bokach brought dive gear. Dying to dive, he searched for a buddy, even approaching strangers, moving from campsite to campsite in search of a tank…Alas, he had to settle for hanging out with us, the landlocked.

For the first time is several years, Thomas and Greg set up their “taj mahal,” complete with full bar and colored lanterns…so civilized! 11 year olds Ella and Josephine took charge of organizing the S’more production line and competed with Chris for the most glorious agates on the beach. Sharon & Nixie focused on sea glass when not shepherding Grace and Penny (Arf,) and Yuki colored his hair especially for the event.

It was fun having Judy Carter back after an absence of many years, and meeting her girlfriend Anna. Others just came for the day and dinner, Craig & Neil, whose new home is just up the road and Jeff Thorin, still jet lagged from Europe.

And so ends yet another fabulous weekend at Leo Carrillo. This year marks the Barnacle Busters’ 20th trip to this local state park and we look forward to many many more!!


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The Blue Planet Sequel Trailer is Here!!!!

Ok, we may be a little late to the table, but we’re still SUPER excited to find out that the sequel to the BBC documentary Blue Planet is under way.

The emmy-winning original was a visually stunning introduction of the teaming biodiversity to be found in the earth’s largest natural habitat and a great introduction to all those humans who perhaps never gave the undersea world much thought. For many of us, it encouraged us to further our adventures through diving and seek out first hand experiences like we saw on the screen. For others, it was a wake up call to get involved in efforts to preserve as much of that biodiversity as possible through efforts both great and small. And for some, it was a call to finally strike out on the journey to scuba certification, after putting it off time and again. Whatever the response, it is arguably one of the most masterful examples of nature documentation produced to date.

Now we can look forward a further installment which promises even more discovery with more incredible visuals from the world’s marine environment. You can check out the link to to see an introduction of new or original footage narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough here.

Accessorized Black Sea Bass Alert!

We just received word about some very special Black Sea Bass who are roaming our underwater hood. If you spot one of them let someone know, but don’t attempt to take away a bass’ unusual bling! Read the email below!
Researchers at Cal State Long Beach have tagged 34 Black Sea Bass over the summer and it’s certainly possible that your divers may come across them and mistake the tag for a float or something that shouldn’t be there. I’m hoping you’ll pass this e-mail along to your followers so they’ll know not to try to remove the tags and can pass any sightings or info along to the researchers. The research is being done by Alyssa Clevenstine ( under the supervision of Dr. Chris Lowe (
One of my divers saw a tagged BSB in the Underwater Park this weekend (didn’t try to remove the tag but didn’t know what it was) which is what got this conversation started. Here’s the note from Alyssa along with photos from Mike Couffer ( as to what the tags look like. (Please give a photo credit to Mike if you use the image.)
“I’m glad to hear no one attempted to remove the tag – it is darted into the animal so trying to take it out would have done far more harm than good. This is the method our lab uses for to tag a variety of large-bodied fish. The transmitters are quite small, about the size of an A23 battery with a small cap at one end to attach the transmitter to the rest of the tag. I completed tagging for my project in August, so I will have to hope any divers and anglers that encounter the 34 tagged animals will leave them be. If you or any members of the dive community have any questions or information, feel free to pass along my email – I’d love to hear from them!”
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Humans Helping Out

Interested in a story about how man can interact in a positive way with the much maligned, elusive shark? Check out the link below for a story from about a persistent lemon shark who recognized a diver as a potential ally in his plight for assistance. This lucky shark happened on just the right diver for aide and we do not recommend you try this yourself. It’s certainly interesting to note that even the most intimidating of creatures can show their need and vulnerability from time to time.

Cee Ray Adventure

The heat wave we’ve been experiencing this year has made our work-a-day world nearly intolerable. Up to triple digits for weeks on end can put people in the worst moods. But what great conditions for diving! The cool breeze was so refreshing and being out on the water with the sun beating down was a little piece of heaven.

We boarded the Cee Ray around 6:30AM, just in time for breakfast! We set up our tanks, ate scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes, then found our bunks to rest up for the day of diving.

Our first stop was Black Rock, which was a very nice first dive, nothing too challenging so we could get used to the conditions. The first thing I noticed was the kelp—it was everywhere! I couldn’t help but want to swim through it. Tons of kelp fish and sheephead were hiding from the sun and below were more abalone than I’d seen in awhile as well. After seeing the devastation from last year when this same spot was like a lunar landscape, I was relieved and thrilled to see so much greenery. There was so much of it, we spent nearly the entire dive navigating our way through.

Lulu Reef is fast becoming one of our favorite spots to dive, so we spent the next two dives exploring the three pinnacles. Here is nearly every kind of critter you could hope to see with so many crags and crevices and tiny swim throughs for them to hide in. Not to mention the sandy areas where we spotted several bat rays nestled into the sand. You know they’re around somewhere when you see the indentations in the sand where they’ve been sleeping. I find I can get fairly close without them being disturbed, but once they start to rise up, you know you’ve gone too close. One of the most graceful creatures to see gliding through the water, I could watch them endlessly.

Back at the pinnacles, I spotted a small octopus tucked into a crag alongside an urchin. I know a lot of people see octopus fairly regularly around Catalina, but I’ve only ever seen one, and that was at Casino Point, so I was thrilled with the find! As I tried to get my GoPro closer for a better shot, it would squeeze in closer to the urchin, which must not have been very comfortable. But as I backed away, its little eyes would pop up to see what I was up to. Very curious! Further down the crag, we found many morays, some sharing space with another moray. And in one area, I noticed two tiny cleaner shrimp dancing away in front of an eel.

The garibaldi were super aggressive, guarding their nests. And they seemed to photo bomb every shot I took! As I would try to capture a shot of some lobster hotel, a huge garibaldi would stick its face right into the lens. Grrr! Stop that!

My favorite moment though was when I spotted a couple of other divers hovering low, focusing on something. We swam over and they pointed at… another octopus! Amazing! Not just one, but two in one day! I was over the moon! I got excellent footage as it moved along, taking on the patina of its surroundings. So hypnotic!

Although the visibility was a bit on the murky side, the temps were low 70’s so they were all comfortable dives. We did catch a chill or two going below 60 feet, so we kept it to around 40 most of the time.

Once we were back onboard, the excellent chef Kim had an amazing meal for us and later we hit the bunks for a quick snooze on the way back.

I do have to give it up for the Cee Ray: they treat everyone like family. From the friendliness of the dive masters they choose, to the kitchen staff, to the owners, they are some of the nicest people you could meet. One of the main missions for Barnacle Busters is to find gay-friendly environments in which to indulge our underwater passions, and the Cee Ray is as good as it gets.

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Taking Control of Your Buoyancy

I’m not embarrassed to admit I was severely overweight for my first 40-plus dives as an open water diver. Even the best low-fat diet wouldn’t have helped me. I needed to shed more than ten pounds of lead weight. During those first dives I discovered the aerobic side to diving — kicking constantly and struggling to stay off the bottom, leaving a cloud of silt in my wake. I burned a lot of calories (and damaged a lot of coral) but somehow it wasn’t quite what I had expected.

Later, thanks to the advice of a local dive guide, I was able to leave the extra pounds behind and discover the remarkable sensation of diving while properly weighted. I only needed four pounds. What a difference! No longer an aerobic sport, diving is now a relaxing experience.

Today, I’m the local dive guide and I’d like to share with you a few tips sure to enhance your diving adventures and help protect the reef. The goal is to take control of your buoyancy. To do this we need to consider the many variables that influence a diver’s buoyancy.

Conditions – Are you diving in calm water or rough seas with heavy surge? Are Currents present? Is it fresh water or salt? Keep in mind surge and current can cause Lift and salt water is more buoyant than Fresh.

Exposure Protection – Are you wearing a Wetsuit or dive skin? The material used to make wetsuits, neoprene foam, is positively buoyant. Just how buoyant depends on the thickness of the suit and how many dives it’s been on (causing suit compression). Just like divers, wetsuits require less weight with experience! Dive skins, whether made from lycra, darlexx and / or PolarTek are neutrally buoyant and do not require any additional weight.

Equipment – has a huge impact an buoyancy. Become familiar with all the features, benefits, even the drawbacks of your equipment. When I ask questions about what type of equipment someone is using, the usual answer is, “it’s pink.” Now, I agree color is important but it really doesn’t help you dive better, regardless of what the salesperson told you. Here are a few facts (not opinions) about dive gear.

Buoyancy Compensator Devices (BCD) have changed considerable over the years. The older “bladder” style BCs tend to fold and trap air making a diver more buoyant. Most BCDs today are bladderless. Padding in the shoulder straps, back support or tummy band can also add to a diver’s buoyancy by a pound or two. When releasing air from the BCD the deflator unit or dump valve must be the highest point on your body or all of the air cannot come out. For releasing air from the dump valve located on the left shoulder you need to get vertical and lean to the right, raising your left shoulder. Also, some BCDs have Velcro “keepers” over the deflator hose – these need to be undone so the path of escaping air is not obstructed.

Tanks have a constantly changing buoyancy of their own. When full, all tanks whether steel or aluminum, are negatively buoyant, (anywhere from -2 to -14 pounds). When empty, most steel tanks remain slightly negative whereas most aluminum tanks become positively buoyant (from + 1 to + 5 pounds). As a tank’s buoyancy changes, so does a diver’s!

A few other equipment facts that affect buoyancy are the size and weight of fins (heavy fins cause feet and legs to sink); neoprene weight belts; and gloves and booties (the thicker they are, the more buoyant). Accessories such as knives, dive lights and photography equipment can go either way on the buoyancy scale —find out the facts about your equipment.

Comfort Level and Breathing Control – Do you really have to be “experienced” to breathe comfortably underwater? Do you consider 40-plus dives “experienced?” for me those 40-plus dives meant that I had gotten really good at being really bad! That’s not experience, it’s endurance!

The more comfortable you are diving, the more controlled your breathing will be and vice versa. Your “Internal BC” (your lungs) is a very useful tool in buoyancy control. Always try to inhale slowly, and exhale slowly —• it’s a “Zen Thing” and very relaxing. Change your breathing when you change depth. A good rule of thumb is “when deep, breathe deep — when shallow, breathe shallow.” For me, deep breaths in shallow water usually means popping to the surface.

Proper Weighting – There are several things you need to keep in mind when setting up or making adjustments to your weight system.

  •  Remove or add weight slowly. One or two pounds at a time “ usually works best.
  •  Use small increments of weight whenever possible (four 2 TM pound weights versus two 4 pound weights).
  • Weights should be evenly balanced on both sides of your body.
  • It’s usually best to wear weights towards the front of the body. Positioning weight on your back forces the lower body TM down. A less than horizontal position is not nearly as efficient.
  • Your center of gravity can be adjusted by raising or lowering g the location of the weight belt. Feet too low? Move the belthigher. Feet too high? Move the belt lower.

“How much weight should I be wearing?” I hear this question over and over, the truth is I have no idea. Sure, I can take a guess but only you can determine the amount of weight that works for you. To do this, you need to take a very simple Weight Test.

Take the test in 15-20 feet of water (with delicate marine life at a safe distance). This is best done at the end of your dive with 800-1000 psi of air remaining in your tank (to account for the tank’s buoyancy).

Next, completely deflate your BCD, making sure you’re in the proper position to get all of the air out.

Then, without kicking or sculling, attempt to hover motionless in either a vertical or horizontal position. As you breathe in and out, observe the changes your lung volume has on buoyancy. Take your time, relax and see what happens.

That’s all there is to it. Interpreting the results is just as simple. If you slowly begin to sink, you’re probably a little over-weighted. If you sink like a stone, you’re definitely over-weighted! On the other hand, if you slowly begin to ascend, you may be a little under-weighted. After returning to the surface, adjust your weights accordingly (remember to do this slowly) and take the weight test again on your next dive. Keep repeating these steps until you find the amount of weight that’s right for you.


This article its reprinted courtesy of the author, instructor, and our friend, Patty Grier. She offers workshops in buoyancy at the fabulous Coco View Dive Resort in Roatan. Make sure to join in this class the next time you stay there!

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Can Killer Robots Save Ocean Ecosystems?

Lionfish can reduce a flourishing coral reef to a wasteland in a matter of weeks. Native fish, unfamiliar with the new arrival, do not know to avoid it, and the predator gorges to the point of obesity.

The Lionfish sits at the top of the food chain, unthreatened by any other creature. They breed rapidly, and are extremely resilient and adaptable. No solution has been found to control their advance yet, but conservationists could soon have a new tool at their disposal: killer robots. Enter iRobot CEO Colin Angle, who met with Bermudan conservationists and learned about the extent of the damage caused by lionfish.

One of the group suggested that he create a machine to kill the fish, and another offered to provide funding. Angle returned home and wrote a proposal, which swiftly became the non-profit company “Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE).” The design for a lionfish killer combines a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), using technology which iRobot had developed for the automatic vacuum cleaner Roomba, with an attached electrocution device.

Local scientists believe the machines could play a critical role in restoring the health of marine ecosystems. If the robot is successful, it could have a major impact on our ability to manage this invasive population.

Prototypes of the robot are undergoing tests to assess how many fish can be killed, power requirements, and variations of the design. The trials will continue for the next year, before the first commercial models are assembled and sent out to hunt. Rizzi says the company is fully focused on the lionfish project, but similar designs could be used to cull other nuisance species in future.

by Keiron Monks for CNN
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Leo Carrillo Camp Weekend

September 8-10th are the dates for the club’s annual Leo Carrillo Camp/Dive trip. This a great, local getaway weekend that offers our members the chance to chill and enjoy some of the best things that the California Coastal Region has to offer.

Just 28 miles north of Santa Monica, Leo Carrillo State Beach sits 1.5 miles of beautiful state beach. The site is perfect for hours of relaxing exploration; beach combing, surf fishing, kite boarding, wind surfing and swimming. For the more ambitious, there are some challenging hiking trails as well. Conditions permitting, the club sponsors a beach dive on Saturday morning. Just off shore there are numerous small kelp beds interspersed with sand beds and rocky shoals that host a healthy variety of sea life like perch, bat rays, lobsters, garibaldi, and even octopus. After a tranquil day at the beach and a sundown cocktail (or two), the evening the meal is on us. We’ll provide the appetizers, main course and dessert.

Some members take advantage of the site’s proximity and opt to come out for part of the weekend or just the day. It’s all good to us! Just please be aware that we need to know if you plan on joining us for Saturday’s catered dinner so we have enough on hand to feed everyone. If you want to overnight with us, you can sign up here. The cost just $25 dollars for the entire weekend. Space is somewhat limited, but we have managed to squeeze multiple tents into some pretty small spaces!  Don’t have a tent you say? Well if you let us know what you need, we may be able to help you out!


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Membership Renewal Just Got Simpler

Thanks to club members Scott Weber, Rex Theobald, and Gary Nugent, renewing your Barnacle Busters membership just became a whole lot easier! We now offer an online renewal option for our members. Before your membership expires, you will receive an email from us letting you know its time to renew. Within that email will be a summary of the contact information that we have on file for you. This is the perfect time to let us know if anything has changed in your life over the past year. Just reply to the email with any corrections that you’d like us to make.

Also included in the email will be a reminder of the waiver that you originally signed when you joined. Simply click the link to the website (indicating that you agree the terms of the waiver) and you’ll be taken to a page on our secure website when you can use your credit card to renew your membership before it expires. No postage or check writing required! Pretty simple, right!