Scuba diving through a kelp forest is a unique experience, not unlike flying through oversized grass.

As the currents make the long, green tendrils of this massive form of seaweed sway and dance, small fish dart out of their hiding places and a whole host of life clings to its leathery sides.

We had specifically gone to Catalina Island, off the Californian coast, to dive its world-famous kelp forests.

The island itself is worth a visit on its own. The vast majority of it (88 per cent of its 76 square miles) is protected from development by the Catalina Island Conservancy, while the main and only real city on the island, Avalon, is a quirky little hub of activity.

Having had limited success trying to get any information out of one of the larger dive companies, we booked with Dive Catalina – a smaller outfit whose owners have a serious amount of dive time in the waters around the island.

Rumour had it they knew the marine environs of Catalina Island like no other.

In the morning we walked down to the dive centre to get our gear.

The centre turned out to be a very small room on the roadside, crammed full of equipment. Ron Moore, the owner, met us and checked out our dive cards, then expertly sized us up and got our equipment together.

The water was cold, so we were going to be clad in hoods and dry suits. We were introduced to our personal scuba guide, an amiable chap named Glen, who was munching his way through breakfast.

The kelp clung to us, twisting around our tanks and dive gear. Using our hands, we carefully pushed it aside, like moving through a never-ending procession of thin green curtains

Now ready to go, we hopped into a golf cart (the primary mode of transport on Catalina Island) and juddered off towards Casino Point.

This is a famous shore-entry dive site, named after a curious, round casino built on the point: not the most creative of names, to be sure, but certainly descriptive.

We were soon fully geared up and waddling our way over to the steps that led into the twinkling waters.

We swam past a couple of divers undertaking a lesson (lots of frantic bubbles and cumbersome bobbing forms) and reached a buoy.

Grabbing hold of the chain, we slowly descended into the depths. As the sun above gave way to the greens of the sea below, we were immediately met by the welcoming committee: a small gathering of garibaldi fish.

These fish are the icons of Catalina Island, being an impossibly bright orange and more than a little inquisitive.

They swarmed around, eyeing us as we sank past them and into the world of kelp beyond.

With visibility down to 30 metres, and a fairly murky greenish tint, this was not my usual type of diving.

In Malta, for example, diving generally means great visi-bility and a vista of twisting underwater topography.

Diving in the tropics (another area I am familiar with) again means great visibility, a multitude of brilliantly coloured fish and vibrant corals and sponges.

Instead, through the murky gloom, the kelp’s twisting arms rose from the sea floor up, ever upwards, to the faint sunlight.

At their base lay a jumble of algae-covered rocks, brightly coloured starfish, undulating flounders and the lurking forms of poisonous scorpionfish.

We started to push our way through the kelp itself – closely following the dive master in case we got lost.

The kelp clung to us, twisting around our tanks and dive gear.

Using our hands, we carefully pushed it aside, like moving through a never-ending procession of thin green curtains, unsure of what would come next.

A space opened up in the kelp and looming out of the darkness beyond was one of the largest fish I have ever seen.

A leviathan of the Pacific Ocean, the giant sea bass truly is a great big fish.

Growing to more than eight feet and weighing in at over 550 pounds, this amazing fish can live past 70 years.

Garibaldi fish are the icons of Catalina Island

The one that moved slowly towards us was about the same size as the golf cart we had been trundling around in earlier, and it came closer and closer until it was a foot away from my somewhat startled face.

Then it drifted past, followed by an even larger bass that gazed at me with its saucer-sized eyes before flicking its tail and disappearing into the gloom where it came from.

Due to their size and lack of fear, these bass were heavily targeted by spear fishermen and sports fishermen in the past.

As it became apparent that their population was spiralling towards extinction, it was put on the protected list and now, being completely off the menu, is making a comeback.

Lucky for us, as seeing them in the water was most awe-inspiring.

Fresh from that experience we continued on our way. A brightly coloured nudibranch (a type of sea slug) sat smugly on the rusting remains of a shipwreck, its vibrant colouration – purple and yellow – reminding predators that it would not make a tasty meal due to its toxins.

It seemed quite aware of its general immunity to danger and coyly waved its tentacles at us as we drifted past. We chanced upon the nest site of a garibaldi, a huge, circular, purple egg mass stuck on the side of a giant boulder.

The garibaldi on guard duty was not best pleased to see us and shot towards us in an orange blaze, nipping at our hands and masks.

Swimming through the shipwreck, we were keenly aware of the poisonous top fins of the scor-pionfish, which sat in every available nook and cranny and stared with bulbous eyes.

Then it was back into the kelp fronds again, working our way carefully through, stopping occasionally to help each other out as we were snared or clutched by an errant frond.

All too soon, we were heading back to the exit point, the sea shimmering above us as we started to rise.

I became aware of a presence below and looked down to see a giant sea bass calmly regarding me as it drifted slowly by.

Above, the school of orange garibaldi separated to let me through their brilliant ranks and there I was at the surface, the edifice of the casino looming in front.

With sea lions, bat rays, angel sharks and a whole host of fish yet to be seen, it seemed a shame to be leaving so soon.

Guess I will have to book another dive...

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