This is Maxwel Hohn. Maxwel is one of my go-to dive buddies, he's also one of the best underwater shooters I know and has spent the last few years showcasing British Columbia in a unique way. Frequent visitors to this site, and people that click on the 'Daily' page above, will see a ton of Maxwel's images. He's also the shooter behind all the of the fantastic Tadpole footage in the awesome Tadpoles: The Big Little Migration video.
This image was taken on the south side of Grouse Island, just across from the Campbell River marina. It's a great little site and offers a nice mix of walls, boulders, marine life, stunning colour, and interesting shallows. It's half April Point Wall, half The Rock. Not a bad mix if you're familiar with those sites.
Maxwel and I basically have the same gear set up. Seen here is a Panasonic GH5 inside an underwater housing made my Canadian company Aquatica Digital. The camera has a 8mm Olympus lens, which helps us pack in as much colour to images, and to be honest, it makes shooting in some fast currents a lot easier. Those big missile looking things on the ends are lights by Light and Motion, a US company that specializes in making fantastic underwater lights that are as bright a small sun.
You can see the rock in the above image is covered in little blobs of colour. Imagine going on a hike and seeing a large rock or cliff face covered in yellow, purple, white and and strawberry coloured life. It's a spectacular site. Where there's colour, there's movement. These sponges, urchins and anemones bring with them a host of marine life: rockfish, ling cod, decorator crabs, puget sound king crab, and the occasional octopus or wolf eel.
For more on Maxwel visit his website.
For charters in Discovery Passage, visit OceanFix.
The feather duster
It's not everyday you stumble upon a field of feather dusters. What? Feather dusters? Yep. The Northern Feather Duster Tube Worm to be more specific. Found, in this instance, on a deep wall on Steep Island, just outside of Campbell River.
Steep is a fantastic dive site, presuming you have a skipper that can read the fast currents and drop you in the water at a safe, and fun time. The dive begins in 60 to 100 feet, a section of the vertical wall covered with tube worms. Now tube worms can be found in other sites throughout BC (in fact, from Alaska to California), but this is the only place I have seen, or heard of, where they are in abundance locally. This entire section of wall is covered with them. Large clusters of these 2 inch diameters worms, consisting of a long light grey tube around 30 inches, into which the purple feather duster-like plumes, called radioles, retract.
The species is highly light sensitive and will withdraw quickly into the tube if a shadow passes over it. Its blood contains chlorocruorin instead of hemoglobin and they can regenerate their plumes if a predator nips them off.
The radioles contain a 'food groove' that serves as a size-filter. The smallest particles, which fit in all the way to the bottom of the groove, are usually eaten. Moderate size particles, in the upper parts of the groove, are often glued together to build the tube. The largest particles, too large to fit within the groove, are usually rejected. The radioles are also used for gas exchange, like gills.
The tube worms are also great cover for a range of marine life, with puget sound king crabs and ling cod often seen resting within, or on the worms.
From a divers perspective, the tube worms offer a feeling of being somewhere otherworldly. A dive on the Steep Island tube worms feels like a deep dive in the middle of the ocean. It feels like you are visiting the Mid Atlantic Ridge, or the moon of Europa.
It's otherworldly atmosphere may be why it's influence is noticeable in Avatar. The scene of Jake Sully touching plants in the Pandora jungle, that promptly retract into tubes - these are basically tube worms!
Seymour Narrows is a very fast moving area of water in Discovery Passage, Campbell River. With some of the largest tidals exchanges in the world, the Narrows around Maude Island produce rapids and whirlpools.
Under the expert and experienced supervision of Oceanfix.ca charter Captain Roger, you can dive this site and certain times. But be prepared for a bit of a rollercoaster ride!
Waiting on the surface, gear on, camera in hand, we wait for Roger's OK signal. He's staring at the water watching for its movement to slow down enough that we can jump in. The tide tables aren't always correct, so it comes down to experiences, and knowledge from having spent years in these waters.
Once in we were treated to ten minutes of high flow currents, pushing us up, down, left and right. Similar to walk into a gale for wind holding a couple of umbrellas. It soon dissipated and we had a fantastic slack (no current at all) for a good twenty minutes, before the tide changed direction and whisked us along in the opposite direction, as if we had open those umbrellas again.
Seymour Narrows was incredible, and quite different from other sites. There was an abundant of pinks and greens - with more painted anemones (seen above) than I have seen in a long time. Red Irish lords (beautiful red fish with incredible eyes) were in good numbers, sculpins, and even the last of the summer bull kelp were all in good spirits, treating us to a jamboree of colour and beauty.
The pool is open!
It's a common saying amongst scuba divers - "the pool is open!". Meaning it's time to dive. As the summer fades and Fall begins to gently consume us, the top layer of water becomes cooler which results in less plankton and algae - this means clearer water, and great diving!
The Fall and Winter time are the best times of year to scuba dive in BC. The water can give you clear water for 100 feet, octopus are in abundance, divers start to take notice and get in the water more often (myself included), and you don't risk heat exhaustion from all the layers of thermals you still have to wear in the summer.
October and November, and February are my favourite months to dive. This year I'll be exploring as much of Discovery Passage, Campbell River, as possible. I'll be diving with the wonderful folk at Oceanfix.ca. A dedicated local group of divers, with an absolutely fantastic dive boat (plus a new one arriving any day), and a great shop with fast turnaround, and a wonderful attitude towards divers, marine life, and diving.
The above image was taken a few days ago at The Rock. A stone's throw away from the shores of Quadra Island, the rocky wall drops off into a high current channel of water known as Discovery Passage. From 120 to 60 feet or so, you'll see the steep vertical rock wall covered in life. A rich palette of yellows, reds, pinks, and almost glow-in-the-dark whites. It's simply a fantastic dive site and one of just a few of this caliber in the Passage.
Next week the same boat and divers (with me on board!) will be diving another site, then another, and another. We'll do this until we get bored - which, will never happen!
As the weeks and months go on, you'll see more images from Discovery Passage here, feel free to ask questions! Enjoy.
HMCS Columbia artificial reef
HMCS Columbia was a Restigouche-class destroyer that served in the Royal Canadian Navy and later the Canadian Forces from 1959 to 1974.
It is now an artificial reef located in Campbell River, British Columbia.
Columbia was laid down on 11 June 1953 at Burrard Dry Dock in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Named for the a river that begins in British Columbia before flowing into the United States.
The Restigouches class were equipped with two twin mounts of 70 calibre dual-purpose guns forward, and maintained a single twin mount of 50 calibre guns aft. They were also armed with two Limbo Mk 10 mortars.
The ship was sold to the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia and sunk as an artificial reef near Campbell River, British Columbia in June 1996.
Displacement: 2,800 tons
Length: 366 ft
Beam: 42 ft
Draught: 14 ft
After being purchased by the ARSBC, the vessel was cleaned and prepared for sinking - all harmful materials are removed and the vessel undoes a strict, government enforced process of preparation. A location was chosen and the vessel was finally laid to rest in approx 130 fee of water near Campbell River.
24 years later the reef has become a home to marine life and a fantastic dive store for visiting humans. The vessel makes for a great dive - puget sound king crabs crawl around near the mortars, large cabezon roam around the decks, and anemones offer shelter to rockfish, crabs, and other marine life.
Artificial reefs are like giant apartment blocks for marine life. They are artificial, placed here by humans, but as soon as they hit the bottom, they become home to hundreds of species of marine life.
The HMCS Columbia continues to serve Canada, and will do for many, many years to come.
The Great Tadpole Commute
Ah, the British Columbia summer. Lots of fantastic diving and snorkelling in the freshwater canyons, rivers and lakes. Camping, BBQ's, wetsuits, paddle boards and of course, lots of photos. Its a great time of year to explore lesser known parts of BC, including a nice little lake towards the top of Vancouver Island, home to tens of thousands of tadpoles.
At around 11am each day the tadpoles move from deeper water into the shallow, warmer water to feed, then around 4pm, they move back down. Its what we've been calling the daily tadpole commute. There are streams of them, like little dark highways weaving in and out of the colourful lily pads. It's incredible. I can hear a David Attenborough voice over talking about the "great migration".
Some of the tadpoles have little legs, some don't. Some are big and chubby, some are small. But they are all very, very cute! Snorkelling above them, just floating in the water looking down, you see the black highway of tadpoles beneath you, tens of thousands of the little guys on their way for lunch. Occasionally one will bump into your camera dome and their little mouth will try and see if it's edible. Each one has a little personality, like a character in a Pixar movie. If I could draw, they'd now be a children's book called Chadpole, telling the adventures of Chad, the tadpole, and his band of friends!
It's another great reminder that our precious freshwater resources also hold incredible marine habitats, extraordinary life cycles, and offer such great educational resources. It is a very fragile environment, and great care must be taken when observing, but it is such a unique and fascinating site to witness, one I wish others could see firsthand.
To explore Beneath BC you don't have to get into the ocean. British Columbia has 19,549 square kilometres of freshwater. Lots of this can be found in the way of stunning lakes. Often much closer to home than you may realize BC's lakes offer a beautiful glimpse into a lesser seen, but equally picturesque underwater world. Lily pads, flowers, freshwater fish, and even reed and weeds all take on a photographic wonder.
Best of all you don't have to be a scuba diver to explore these areas - a mask and snorkel will do just fine. Even a kayak or paddle board. Just go for a swim and explore beneath BC!
Get a new perspective this spring
This time of year is a glorious in British Columbia. As the flowers start to bloom and the trees begin to blossom, the water starts to take on a new life. Smacks of jellyfish bloom in the waters, plankton and algae starts to gather, and life begins to flourish. For diving this can either be a blessing or a curse. On one hand the visibility in some places reduce drastically, in others (normally further up Vancouver Island heading north) it comes and goes and brings with it new life.
The above photo was taken on a wall at Steep Island in Campbell River. CR is a great place to dive all year round. It has very high tidal exchanges (some of the largest in the world), which means it can flush out bad viz and offer spectacular diving all year round.
Steep Island is a unique site in BC as it is home to a magnificent cliff of tube worms. Imagine a feather duster stuck inside a plastic pipe. The duster pokes out the top, feeds on particulate in the water, and when it senses danger, it retracts in the tube. The duster is a rich red colour, while the wall it is fixed on is covered in sulphur sponges bright yellow, decorated by stunning strawberry anemones.
As summer draws closer, as the nights get longer, the skies blue and water (at least at the surface) get a little warmer, consider dipping your toes in our incredible emerald seas. Remember - its not just land that flourishes under the increased sunlight. Most of our ocean life also relies on photosynthesis, and this time of year things start to get interesting!
We've just come off the back of an awesome week of diving in British Columbia. It's no secret that the winter time is the best time to dive. Crisp air and crystal clear waters make for some stunning dives full of colour, marine life, and adventure.
Last week saw a great group of divers from all over North America descend upon the Comox Valley and Campbell River, visiting some classic local dive sites such as Row and Be Damned, April Point Wall, Steep Island, and Norris Rocks. They were stunned by the wall to wall colour, the abundance of marine life, and clarity of our beautiful emerald waters.
Along with Trisha and Russell, Jill Heinerth and Jaqueline Windh bought the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Fellow head count up to four. Jill (Explorer in Residence) also bought out the RCGS flag for this group shot (photo by Maxwel Hohn).
We were shooting some immersive (and rather amazing) 360 video for a client. We'll be sharing some 360 virtual reality footage ourselves in the future, but for now we're just very happy to shot some of the coolest BC dive footage we could have hoped for.
As the snow continues to fall the dives keep happening. It may be cold out site, but the water is warmer than the air, more inviting, and full of things to keep us busy!
It's not all about the diving...
As this entire website shows, there is much waiting to be discovered beneath BC. But it's not all about the diving. A huge part of the appeal for many is the social aspect. This shot above was taken last night at a local site in Comox. Four of us (Russ, Trish, buddy Krystal, and photographer Maxwel) decided to nip out for a quick dive near Little River. We had great visibility, great surface conditions, a few curious sea lions, lots of fish, a big octopus, and we even surfaced to a nice pink sunset. Perfect!
Having a good group of dive buddies makes diving much more fun. It's not really a solo sport, so sharing with like minded people that are as equally as passionate about the ocean, about video, and about marine life as we are, makes it an addictive and super fun activity for us.
Most dive stores have a very active social aspect, with regular dives, BBQs, and hangouts. Often a post-dive drink or meal happens and everyone can chat about what they saw on their sub aquatic adventure. Some parts of BC have very active dive clubs, not associated with a specific store, but a group of people that do local, and destination based trips. Offering a strong camaraderie these clubs can be great places to learn about diving and hone your skills.
From beneath BC to above, from the depths of the ocean floor to the table of the nearest pub - diving is a fantastic activity for the social minded explorer.
Thanks to Maxwel Hohn for this photo, you can see more of his great work here.
In Calgary? Want to learn more?
We shall be talking at this years Divescapes scuba show and conference in Calgary, October 19-21.
Divescapes is the bi-annual scuba show and conference organized by the rather amazing Alberta Underwater Council. The AUC is an incredibly active council that puts on a huge variety of events throughout the year. Alberta, despite being a wee way from the coast, has a hugely active scuba diving community. Their show, Divescapes, is the only dive show of its kind in Canada, and pulls in some top speakers from across the global dive industry.
This year we have been asked to speak, and shall be giving a 45 minute presentation at the show in October. There's a great roster of top speakers, so get a ticket, get a seat, and help support Canada's only dive show!
It doesn't get better than BC!
Yeah, we know this site is called "beneath BC" but sometimes in order to get a good perspective, you need to get a little distance. This shot was taken way above BC, above the emerald green waters off Hornby Island to be exact. You can see the Hornby Island Diving boat, divers bubbles, and the wall as it descends into the deep.
As these walls drop off to depth they become fantastic dive sites. Like the steep slopes of a mountain, forest or hill - they are teaming with life and things to explore.
A three day diving trip to Hornby Island gave us an incredible experience with huge ling cod, cabezon, octopus, wolf reefs, schools of rockfish, puget sound king crabs, even ratfish!
With sunny days, and amazing underwater visibility like this - who needs the tropics?! Not us, we're happy at home, here beneath BC.
'tis the season to go snorkelling!
Snorkelling is an often overlooked activity. It's cheap (mask, fin and snorkel can be purchased from your nearest dive store or even Costco), there's access to snorkelling sights all over BC - really, just find any bit of water, and it's a perfect way to cool off during an insanely hot summer.
Snorkelling can be an easy way to gain access to our underwater world. You can stay near the shore, be very shallow, and even be within arms reach of the shore. It's a great way for those with little water experience to get out there and discover new life.
For scuba divers it can also be a nice refreshing way to view the world. At this time of year putting on thermal layers and heavy gear can be quite unpleasant, but a thin wetsuit, or even shorts and rash guard can make getting into the ocean super fun.
If you've never snorkelled before we recommend you head to your nearest dive shop and talk to them about a quick swimming pool lesson, or guided snorkel excursion. Learning how to prepare your mask, and "clear" it if it gets flooded is a good skill, and for those not familiar with it, breathing through your mouth and snorkel alone, can take some time to adjust too. But once these quick to learn skills are taken care of, the world becomes your oyster!
So what's there to see? The top few feet of water is home to kelp and sea weed, and where this thrives, life follows. Kelp crabs are a big resident of these shallow waters. You'll see tons of the little guys walking around, going about their business and stuffing their faces with kelp. Take a few moments to just watch them as they feed, it's very relaxing and incredible intriguing!
You'll see lots of little fish too, some teeny, some a wee bit bigger. You may get lucky to see a greenling, or a call school or perch. You'll even see fish in gangs of about a dozen swarm some of the crabs as they feed, hoping to grab an easy snack after the crab does the hard work.
You'll also get to see the way the light enters the water, the sun carving out definitive light beams in the emerald green water. It's very BC, very therapeutic, and makes for an exciting, and rewarding day on the water.
BC has some of the most stunning coastal waters in the world, rich with nutrients and marine life. It is also home to some of the most stunning freshwater lakes and rivers.
Given that most of BC is surrounded by towering mountains, it stands to reason as the summer sun melts the snow - it all has to go somewhere.
See here is Stotan Falls, located in the Comox Valley. The nearby mountains produce a summer melt that funnels into the Comox Lake - the source of local drinking water. The lake splinters off to become the Puntledge River. Along the way it formed several amazing locations; Medicine Bowls, Nymph Falls and Stotan Falls.
Exploring beneath BC includes exploring these amazing sites of natural beauty. Caution is always advised, but in the summer months you can swim in parts of these locations, snorkel, sit on inflatable tubes, or just dip a toe in to cool down.
These freshwater habitats not only produce exquisite topography above and below the waterline, but are also home to many species of life; salmon and trout being the two most abundant.
So dip beneath a clear, cool, freshwater BC paradise the next time you’re feeling hot. There’s always something to see and learn.
British Columbia has a new addition to its waters - the artificial reef YOGN-82. A former US WWII gasoline barge, YOGN-82 has been part of Catalyst Paper’s Powell River breakwater for some years, finally being delivered to it's new home this past Saturday by the Artificial Reef Society of BC. Over the coming years it will become a bustling marine life habitat and a welcome addition beneath BC.
The ARSBC, which has sunk more ships and aircraft than any other non-profit group in the world to create marine habitat, has worked and consulted with Catalyst Paper for the sinking of their vessel YOGN-82. In addition to the letters of endorsement from the Tla’amin Nation (Sliammon), the Regional District of Powell River and the City of Powell River, approvals were granted by federal government agencies following strict preparation and cleaning guidelines.
The YOGN-82 is the first of four ships planned to be sunk for reefing. The break-water vessels are all American Second World War surplus which were purchased over time by the mill. Constructed from cast reinforced concrete, they have survived afloat and have been part of Powell River’s seascape, acting as a breakwater system protecting the mill’s log pond and foreshore.
Ranging from 109 to 128 meters long, and weighing between 6000 and 8000 tons, these historic relics are the last of their kind afloat anywhere in the world. Consequently, this project has the potential to become a significant scuba dive tourism attraction for British Columbia, as well as hugely positive effect on marine life in the area.
Accessible only by boat, the ships will be prepared in succession and sunk within easy scuba swimming distance from each other, effectively creating a cluster of historic wrecks.
These wartime relics are already well past their lifespan. In essence they are already floating artificial reefs, based on the generations of biodiversity in place on their hulls. When fully submerged, these ships will form a pinnacle oasis for marine flora and fauna settlement with scale and habitat complexity.
If you want to explore this new marine habitat, you can book a dive charter through Pacific Pro Dive & Marine Adventures.
Drift diving is a fun way to view the underwater world. You jump off a dive boat, descend, and let the current take you on a journey of discovery. It's like standing on one of those conveyor belts you get at airports, but cruising by walls of colour and marine life.
Campbell River's Discovery Passage is one of the best places in BC to drift dive. It has some of the highest tidal exchanges in North America, and the narrow channel results in currents in excess of 14 knots. Now, you couldn't dive in 14 knots, you'd be half way around the world before you know it! But one or two knots of current can make for a pleasurable drift dive.
This past weekend we were out with Pacific Pro Dive diving two sites, Whiskey Point, and The Rock. The current was pretty low so it was a mixture of light swimming and drifting at a leisurely rate. Hovering a few feet about the sea floor, we traveled at about 1 knot, nice and slow and smooth, keeping our eyes open for wolf eels, giant pacific octopus, ling cod, rockfish, cabezon, and any other signs of life hiding amongst the coloured sponges and anemones. It's a great ride, being a sub Aquatica passenger is a lot of fun, and a privilege.
You can see a short video here.
Shot on an iPhone
To quote someone that we can't name "the best camera is the one you have with you". Well for the vast majority of people that's a smart phone, and for us, it's a shiny new iPhone 8. Not convinced? How about a pocket camera that shoots 4K 60fps video? Sold.
During a non-working fun dive we may not want to take the big camera system with us. The option of diving without a camera is obviously not an option at all! We can't not have a camera underwater! So we're always on the look out for a super easy, super handy, super practical little camera to take on adventures underwater. With the iPhone 8, we found it.
We've tried a lot of iPhone and iPhone housings over the past few years, the latest iPhone 8 paired with the Lenzo housing (made by ValsTech) is by far the best. By a massive margin. It's the solution we've been looking for, and really does pack a ton of amazing video and photos features into a system that is small enough to take anywhere, and easy enough to use on a day off (little brain activity required!).
Lenzo iPhone housings are tough, they have great optics, the latch is reassuring, the buttons feel nice, and the two little "arms" mean you can focus, select different functions, and dismiss any "low battery" error messages. It's the most versatile, practical, highest functioning and best design iPhone housing on the market.
The iPhone 8 is a fantastic camera to have underwater. Using the iPhone's native camera app we can take "Live Photos" - essentially 3 second snapshots, we can shoot HDR images, switch between 240fps slow motion at 1080, time lapse, and video functions. Using Camera+ we can shoot RAW still images, and using the awesome Filmic Pro app we can shoot a ton of video with more options than ever before (an app that really shines above water), such as focus peaking, increased bit rate and an incredible stabilization mode.
The Lenzo is now our go-to "day off" camera. We always have it, it shoots remarkably well, and it makes for a very fun dive! In fact, it really gives a lot of other, more expensive cameras a run for their money. Never underestimate the power of a telephone!
Find out more here: https://www.valstech.com
February 15th, 2018
As Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society we are charged with helping to make Canada better known to Canadians. Our way of doing this is simple - this Beneath BC website. Showing people what lies beneath British Columbia's surface is what excites us, and hopefully you too. One day we hope to take the project national and show people what lies beneath Canada. Until then we hope you learn something new about our waters here, and maybe even jump in yourself!
Today Canadian Geographic (a spectacular magazine you should subscribe to) has us listed in their 'Seven amazing things RCGS Fellows are up to this year' article. It's a good read, and inspiring to see what other fellow Canadians are doing to help show off the best of our country.
You can learn more about the Royal Canadian Geographical Society here.
Crossing the line
This is fishing line, it was cut away from around the neck of a sea lion.
On a recent dive to Hornby Island to swim with the sea lions we noticed one little guy swim up to us appearing to have some kind of string around his neck. We tried to remove it but the sea lion had to surface for more air. He took a big breath, and came right back to us, hovering in front of us, specifically for us to help him. We successfully managed to cut the fishing line away and he swam off happy as a pig in mud!
On the same dive we retrieved more fishing line from the ocean bed. A common site underwater.
Fishing line, nets and rope pose a particular hazard to sea lions. It gets caught around their necks, and as the sea lion swims and turns in the water, the line or rope tightens, eventually killing the sea lion.
BC actually keeps it's coastline pretty clean, we don't find too much garbage underwater on most occasions, normally cans when we do. But fishing line is a big threat to marine life of all kinds and one that can be very easily avoided.
Help us spread the word and ask fishing friends to properly dispose of their lines, ropes and nets. Let's keep our oceans clean, healthy and safe!
Sea stars and photo bombs!
Vivian Island, a 30 minute boat ride from Comox marina has a stunning little underwater playground. This time of year sea lions call it home, and the clear, crisp winter water makes for some incredible underwater exploration.
It's a good spot to observe sea lions with a little less chaos than the likes of Norris Rocks at Hornby Island. On a day like the one above, a few steller sea lions entered the water to check out us clumsy land dwellers. The interactions are often more personal here, with sea lions swimming to you, hovering, looking you in the eye, and then showing off their swimming skills, or playing catch with a pebble.
The topography around Vivian Island also offers a wealth of other, much smaller marine life. Beautiful nudibranchs, anemones, cheeky little crabs, lingcod, hermit crabs battling for a new home, black eyed gobies... the longer you look at a spot, the more you see. Every square inch is home to something, even if it's teeny tiny marine life that at first glance you don't notice.
Purple sea stars are a lovely colourful addition to any underwater habitat. As larger sunflower sea stars still continue to suffer from the "wasting disease" that began in 2013 (see video below), these little purple ones are a delight to see and always make for a fun photo op.
As Trish went in for a closer look, I could see this cheeky steller sea lion descend from the service, and swim right behind her - they love to see what you're looking at. He then swam away at a speed no human could ever match.
It was a playful little move from a curious and cute creature. A pleasant reminder that we were in his backyard, and we felt most privileged to be there!