A Swirl of Life

The first post in the new Lens on Life blog by curator Chuck Kopczak

05/6/2020 (updated 05/7/2020)
A beautiful array of silvery-blue fish , and three pink ones, swirl around a fuzzy-looking coral reef. A bright orange sea star accents the foreground near the bottom left corner.
Chuck Kopczak, PhD

A bright orange bat star, golden gorgonians, pink sheephead, and blue blacksmith fish crowd the reef on West Anacapa Island.

Today’s photo was taken with a Canon EF8-15 mm Fisheye lens at focal length 15 mm on a Canon EOS 5D Mk III in an Ikelite underwater housing. Light was provided by twin Ikelite DS161 strobes set to eTTL exposure. The exposure was set to 1/45 sec at f/8.0 and ISO 200.

Hi! I am Chuck Kopczak, curator of life sciences at the California Science Center. Welcome to the first post in Lens on Life, a visual trip through my life as a marine scientist, photographer, amateur geologist, museum curator and general observer things natural.

Marine ecosystems have fascinated me since back in high school when I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. At the time I had no idea where that decision would take me, but I have been fortunate to visit some amazing marine ecosystems since that day. Along the way I picked up and improved my skills and interest in photography to both document scientific observations and capture images of beauty in the natural world. This photoblog is a way for me to share both my scientific background and curiosity, and my photographic endeavors. I’ll regularly be sharing one of my photographs along with a brief description of some scientific aspect of the subject. Of course, sometimes the photo may spark a more philosophical response in me.

This inaugural photo taps into both my scientific and philosophical senses. Taken on a multi-day dive trip to the Northern Channel Islands off the coast of southern California, the scene was captured at a site called Coral Reef at West Anacapa Island. While the waters of southern California are far too cold to support the growth of reef-building corals, this site gets its name from the lush growth of marine organisms covering the rocky reef and hovering above it. It is one of the scientifically documented facts that California’s Channel Islands harbor some of the most diverse temperature marine ecosystems in the world. Sometimes referred to as the “Galapagos of the North,” the Channel Islands’ diversity stems from their location at the confluence of two enormous marine current systems.

Located between Point Conception in California and Cabo Colnet in Baja California the Southern California Bight receives cold nutrient-rich water and species from the north delivered by the California Current, while the Southern California Countercurrent bring warm water species up from the south. Mixing in this vast stretch of ocean, the area hosts marine species typical from both north of Point Conception and south of Cabo Colnet, and the total species diversity exceeds that of either source area.

The Channel Islands of California are at the top of my list of places to dive. Surrounded by lush kelp forests these islands truly deserve to be called the “Galapagos of the North.”