An oceangoing treat awaits kids who head to Ventura Harbor this afternoon. It's the "Live Underwater Video Program," a big-screen trip to the bottom of the sea near Anacapa Island--live and in color.
In past years, this novel program at the Visitors Center of Channel Islands National Park has not been available after Labor Day. But this year, if you miss today's show, you can catch it on subsequent Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sept. 24.
The program provides viewers almost as much fun as scuba-diving in the remarkably clear waters of Anacapa Landing Cove--without having to pay for transportation or suiting up and getting wet.
An underwater team--linked through cable to a boat filled with island visitors and via microwave to the mainland Visitors Center--conducts what amounts to a sea-bottom press conference. Kids on the mainland get to ask questions of the on-camera marine biologist as she (it's usually a woman) points out such features as a 100-foot-high kelp forest and the marine creatures that live in it.
Suzan Smith, a park ranger who provides the introduction for viewers on the mainland end of the hookup, begins by talking about kelp. It's hard to believe but scientifically hard to deny her reminder that "70% of the oxygen in the world comes from kelp and other plants that live in the marine environment."
Such plants not only produce a life-giving part of the air we breathe but another substance that we use every day.
"Algin," Smith says, as she holds up a jar full of the powder, "is extracted from kelp for use as an emulsifier in a wide range of products."
Obtained through controlled harvesting by big boats operating out of San Diego, kelp algin is processed into a creamy liquid and used in shampoos, soaps, ice cream, frozen foods and "anything you want to be creamy," Smith says. "You probably used some this morning--in your toothpaste."
Following this intro, Smith turns things over to a scuba-diving colleague--these days it's Holly Lohuis, 15 miles away and deep underwater at Anacapa Landing Cove.
Lohuis, a marine biologist with Island Packers, the contractor operating boat tours to the Channel Islands for the Park Service, swims into view and goes about narrating the undersea stories the camera finds that day.
"Things underwater naturally look bigger, due to the optical effects of the water," she says, swimming up to a pair of California spiny lobsters looking as huge as movie monsters. They, in turn, are blithely clambering on the back of a lethargic horn shark as it takes its siesta in a cave.
Then Lohuis spies a male Garibaldi fish--the state fish of California. He is building a nest for a female to visit briefly to lay eggs he can hatch and raise--by himself.
"Underwater Video Program," today at 2 p.m. and every Tuesday and Thursday through Sept. 24. Repeated periodically. Visitors Center of Channel Islands National Park, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura. Free. (805) 658-5730.
Also: "Uplink to Adventure," interactive underwater-to-shipboard video exploration. Operated by Island Packers from the dock adjacent to the Visitors Center. By appointment. $26. (805) 642-1393.