Amber and I arrived at the foggy Ventura boatyard on an early morning in late March to meet our fellow divers and guides, Scott Clark and DJ MacAskill of the University California, Santa Barbara. In no time at all, we had loaded up our little boat, and we were off, motoring the four miles offshore towards the hulking mass of platform Gina looming out of the fog in 95 feet of water.
We had two dives planned, each with a total time of around 40 minutes. It was a calm day on the water, and we had at least 30 or 40 feet of visibility underwater, excellent conditions for coastal California and ideal for our goal of capturing footage and photographs of the wild ecosystem that resides on the rig.
The moment we took a giant stride off the boat and plunged into the grey water, we were instantly face-to-face with a living, breathing structure. As we free-fell 95 feet down the leg of the platform, we were amazed by the vibrant pinks, greens, oranges and purples displayed by a variety of sponges, anemones and barnacles that called the big, humming rig home.
After three minutes we had reached the bottom, an alien environment with squirming, shifting and writhing marine life. Here sheep crabs reared their pincers into the air and brittle stars competed for space on the crowded bottom. A curious juvenile California sea lion joined us on the bottom; interested in the foreign visitors with the "lollipop" camera and bright lights, he posed and barked bubbles into the lenses of our cameras several times.
What truly impressed us was the complete circle of life taking place on this platform. Sea stars preyed on the mussels and scallops that clung to the rig, and discarded their shells, which then fell to the bottom to in turn be utilized as a nursery by the local Rockfish populations. Scott explained to us back on the boat that it's during the summer months that the fish populations on this platform truly come alive. Rockfish, he explained, school by the thousands at the base of the rig during the summer months to mate and spawn amongst the unique shell mounds that constitute their nurseries for juvenile fish. He recounted that one could roll over and gaze up at a surface now blacked out by thousands of breeding fish.
What we were able to take away from diving platform Gina was that these platforms are truly unique microcosms of life. They are not lifeless steel beams drilled deep into the substrate. These platforms are alive.