Diving a working oil rig in Southern California (Watch Video)


Ever since Alex Mustard was a finalist in the Bird category of Wildlife Photographer of the year with a shot of a cormorant diving under an oil rig we have wanted to follow in his fin-steps and take a look at this unusual dive ourselves. So, when we decided to stay on in Southern California after our trip to photograph Great White Sharks off Guadalupe Island with Nautilus Liveaboards, this dive was at the very top of our list to organise.

We got in touch with Captain Kyaa from Sundiver International based in Long Beach to see if there might be an opportunity to dive one of the oil rigs and also the more famous dive destination of Catalina Island. Soon we had an exciting diving itinerary set up. We departed La Jolla and made the short drive north to Long Beach and checked into Hotel Maya, where we had a room with an outstanding view of the harbour and the Queen Mary.

Sundiver International have three boats and for our trip to dive the oil rig we were on the smallest of these with a small group of just six divers. There are three oil rigs that are close to shore and readily diveable in the right conditions. Permission must be sought in advance and the sea needs to be calm for boats to be able to approach the oil rig structure. We were going to dive the oil rig called Ellen and we had the perfect conditions to dive it!

As we did the short swim to the structure we could hear the noises of the workmen and machinery above us. It is an unusual dive to be allowed to dive a working oil rig and these structures do not exactly spring to mind when you try to think of places that would be home to an abundance of marine life, but as we dipped our heads under the surface we were amazed. Each leg of the structure was covered in life. Anemones and brittle stars covered the metal frame. Mussels formed huge clumps near the surface. Then something else caught out eyes…

A young Californian Sea Lion had decided to come and check us out. It darted past at incredible speed, not getting too close at first. Then as it grew braver, it twisted and turned in front of us, using the oil rig as its playground and showing off its amazing swimming skills. We were enchanted and spent the rest of the dive in the shallows trying to get a shot and some video footage of this special moment.

All too soon it was time to head off, but at least we had Catalina Island to look forward to!

  • For more information about Sundiver International visit their website by clicking here.
  • For more information about Long Beach visit the Official travel website by clicking here.
  • To visit the Hotel Maya website click here.

All images and text by Frogfish Photography

Equipment used:

  • Olympus OMD EM-1 MKII; Nauticam housing; INON Z240 strobes
  • Paralenz Dive Camera
Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown are a husband and wife team of underwater photographers. Both have degrees in environmental biology from Manchester University, with Caroline also having a masters in animal behaviour. Nick is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in underwater wildlife photography and he also has a masters in teaching. They are passionate about marine conservation and hope that their images can inspire people to look after the world's seas and oceans. Their Manchester-based company, Frogfish Photography, offers a wide range of services and advice. They offer tuition with their own tailor made course - the Complete Underwater Photography Award. The modules of the course have been written to complement the corresponding chapters in Nick's own book: Underwater Photography Art and Techniques. They also offer equipment sales and underwater photography trips in the UK and abroad. For more information visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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