British Columbia (BC), Canada is known for having some of the most colourful temperate water diving in the world. This holds true for excellent critter sightings as well, found throughout the varied coastal regions.
To get a better understanding of what BC has to offer, let’s take a closer look at each region. Keep in mind however; most of the underwater life you will encounter can also be found at multiple locations.
Bordering Mainland Vancouver and the Coastal Mountain Range, Howe Sound is a deep fiord fed by cool upwelling nutrient-rich water. Like most locations along the coast, seasons are mild, the wildlife plentiful and diving can be done year round. For those needing to wet their appetite for outdoor adventure, Howe Sound is a great place to start.
Shore diving can be done at Whytecliff Park and Porteau Cove where divers might find wolf eels, octopus, huge cabezon and lingcod. Orange and white swimming anemones, small crabs, hydroids and frosted nudibranchs are also plentiful. Porteau Cove has several small boats in the park, scuttled to enhance the terrain.
For half and full day boat charters, dive boats meet groups at Sewell’s Marina in Horseshoe Bay. Howe Sound is full of pinnacles, islands and islets, some marked with mooring buoys to designate the dive sites. Below the emerald water, divers might find orange sea pens, small sculpins and brittle stars at the Bird Islet site. Cowan Point is good for zoanthid anemones, hairy-spined crabs and beautiful red crimson anemones. Under any of the mooring buoys you can usually see rockfish, wolf-eels and the occasional Puget Sound king crab. The 366-foot (111-meter) retired Canadian Navy ship HMCS Annapolis is the latest addition to BC’s collection of artificial reefs, scuttled in October of 2012.
Lower Sunshine Coast
Getting to the Sunshine Coast requires a ferry ride across Howe Sound from Departure Bay to Langdale. (See www.bcferries.com). After a short drive to Sechelt and then to Egmont, divers wanting a weekend getaway can meet a dive operator here for an excellent selection of advanced dives.
Beneath the Power Lines, in Agamemnon Channel, is a deep wall full of life starting upon descent. Immense clusters of yellow and white cloud sponges are dispersed all along the wall, as it gently cascades to depths beyond 200ft (61m). Around 90ft (27m), huge red gorgonian sea fans majestically stand as high as a diver. Watch for small orange sharp-nose crabs and rockfish hiding within the cloud sponge openings. At this site, I have photographed many different small crabs, orange peel nudibranchs, juvenile yellow-eye rockfish, sea cucumbers, cup corals, abalone and so much more.
Because of the depth and relatively mild currents, Agamemnon Channel is a favourite among technical divers. Personally, I find the increased size of the gorgonians impressive and always try to bring along a Trimix system when visiting this area, just for the gorgonians!
Skookumchuck Rapids is another breathtaking dive with a multi-coloured collection of white, orange, green and pink anemones. Clusters of orange and purple ochre sea stars plaster themselves on large boulders scattered about the terrain in the shallows. In deeper water, the entire ocean floor is covered in red, green, yellow and orange anemones and sponges. Although diving is done at slack (when the water stops to change direction) current in the Skook (as locals call it) can reach up to an impressive 30km per hour!
The wreck of the HMCS Chaudiere, scuttled in 1992 by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia (ARSBC), lies on its port side in 60-145ft (20-44m) of water in Sechelt Inlet. Visibility is best between September and April, sometimes yielding up to 100ft (30m)! The wreck wears a cloak of glass tunicates on the railing and deck structures with white and orange plumose anemones inhabiting the side of the vessel hull. The forward gun barrels, pointing straight down, now host a small growth of yellow cloud sponge about midway down.
Upper Sunshine Coast
After another ferry ride from Earl’s Cove to Saltery Bay across Jervis Inlet, you will find the friendly community of Powell River. Near Saltery Bay is Mermaid Cove where a three-meter-high bronze mermaid welcomes all underwater. Campsites, washroom facilities and changing rooms are available in the park.
This easy shore-entry dive is suitable for all skill levels, complete with a wheelchair ramp and a place to unload gear. High tide usually brings in clear water for viewing the mermaid, created by Simon Morris before being placed at 60ft (20m). Be sure to check out the statue’s base for a resident octopus. Not far from the mermaid is the wooden hull of a small boat, where small gobies and lingcod like to hang out. Next to the wreck is the start of a wall with very large boot sponges. Again, watch for rockfish peering out the sponge openings.
Just up the road is a place called Octopus Hole, another easy shore dive, where small octopus hide in rocky dens. The terrain is favourable to crabs, which are always on the cephalopod’s menu. Orange and brown burrowing sea cucumbers, swimming nudibranchs and tiny sculpins call this place home.
Another interesting shore dive is located at the old mill in Powell River, along a breakwater of ghost ships. The shallow wreckage of the Malahat’s remnants is scattered about the bottom but chocked full of large and small fish. Entry is done from shore on a sandy beach next to the breakwater. The wreck can be found by skirting around the large boulders and heading straight out from shore, moving towards the mill in about 30-80ft (9-24m) of water.
For a unique boat dive, all divers usually enjoy the site of the MV Gulfstream, sinking in 1947 at Dinner Rock. This advanced wreck dive is in 125-155ft (38-47m) of water. Although the island’s wall is steep, a host of abalone, lingcod, rockfish, cup corrals and huge white and orange plumose anemones can be found here. This is one of those dives where technical divers can explore the deep wreck, and the naturalists can check out the island’s multitude of critters in the shallows.
Northern Coastal British Columbia
(Beyond Port Hardy)
Liveaboard dive vessels are your best bet for exploring BC’s vast coastal waterways, departing from Port Hardy or Prince Rupert. Wreck diving is one of the main activities for divers in this area, but the sites are almost always covered with so much life, it’s hard to tell they actually sailed on the ocean above.
The charm of seclusion is another reason why divers venture this far north. Waking up in a tranquil calm cove with a humpback whale surfacing nearby mingled with the sounds of eagles fishing for their breakfast of salmon is well worth the experience.
A favourite wreck is the Transpac, sitting vertically against a wall with its bow in 90ft (27m) and the stern at 285ft (87m). Even though visibility can be 60-100ft (18-30m) here, lights and extended-range gear are advisable. Upon ascent, however, there is a nice wall to the right, which offers a multitude of invertebrate life. On one of my favorite dives here, we were lucky enough to spot a very young, pink Alaskan king crab.
On the wrecks of the Ohio, James Drummond and the Drumrock, I photographed giant clusters of yellow and white cloud sponge, tall white plumose anemones, bright orange yelloweye rockfish, lingcod in shades of blue and grey and numerous anemones of all sizes.
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