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  • Writer's pictureElaina Thomas

Why you need to do a guided dive on Catalina

I have so many experienced certified divers scoff at me when I recommend they do a guided dive on Catalina, at Casino Point. I even recommend it if you have dove the site before. At least hire a local guide once.

Now hear me out... when I have free time at Casino Point, I often join other dive pros, or dive groups and I lead a fun dive. And the response I get is "WOW, I have never found that wall before." Or "Wow, how did you find the swim platform so quickly?" Or I hear "I can't believe you spotted that octopus!"

My response is almost always: Why haven't you done a guided dive on Catalina yet?!

And here is the reality, when I travel I hire a local guide. Their eyes are conditioned to their specific environment. They don't just have good eyesight and that's why they spot the nudibranch. They have spent YEARS training their eyes to spot very specific things at their home reef.

Even though I am a PRO at spotting things at Casino Point, when I dive in Roatan I swear I could swim right by a seahorse. And it's because I haven't trained my eyes to spot them. The local guide I hire always points me towards things I would have missed.

I know many of you know the park well, maybe you've dove it 100s of times. But it changes weekly and sometimes daily. And a local guide will be able to show you where the Garibaldi are nesting, where the octopus has its den, how to find the cleaner shrimp, or where the moray eel have been hiding recently.

And although you may find all these things on your own, hiring a guide makes sure you are getting the most out of your dive. One dive with a guide you will see as much as in two or three dives on your own.

When people join me for a guided dive on Catalina, if they are Open Water Divers, I descend on the buoys and take them directly to the famous Jacques Cousteau Plaque. I follow along further to the first finger reef and show them the cave in the shallows where I sometimes find horn shark, and I almost always find large lobster. Then we go further over a large drop where a male Garibaldi is protecting his nest. After he successfully scares us away, we move shallower towards a wall where I almost always find blue dorid nudibranch. The wall has a chute to float up and ascend to the shallower portion of the dive. From there we travel back to the finger reef where we climb the crevasse over the top to do our safety stop.

When I have Advanced divers joining me for a guided dive on Catalina, I start the same way, but descend into deeper waters towards the glass bottom boat "The Kismet." We venture left from there passing over pier pylons with octopus hiding underneath. When we arrive at the swim platform I show them where the Spanish Shawl Nudibranch are breeding. The babies are the size of a grain of rice. Then to see the Garibaldi who nests there every year, and lastly, but my favorite part, we look into the hole where the Moray Eel lives. If the Moray Eel is out hunting, you can put your hand down to have the cleaner shrimp manicure your fingers and climb over your hands.

Now, can you find all of these things on your own? Over time, yes. But if you don't have months to spend diving daily at Casino Point Dive Park, then hire a local guide so they can show you in one dive the things you might not spot for months until your eyes are better trained and conditioned to spot them.

Even if you are an instructor from the mainland, I think a dive with an island guide can show you the "off the beaten path" locations, and you can take that knowledge with you for all of your future dives with students. If you hire me for a dive, I'll be so excited to share with you my guiding tips and tricks at Casino Point. Let's lift eachother up! We want people diving here with us and having spectacular dives.

And let's face it, I learned all my best moves from other instructors. So I don't mind sharing mine.

I'm not saying always dive with a guide, and I'm not saying it has to be me, but I AM saying you should at least dive with an island guide once. I promise it will be eye-opening.

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