Thursday, November 17, 2016

Whytecliff Park Scooter Dive 15/11/2016

Vlad and I decided it was high time to do a scooter dive, and we picked the perfect night. It had been rainy and miserable, but the weather did an about face to a clear and calm night. The super moon was happening, and the resulting King Tides were also. We hit the high tide perfectly, and I had never seen it so far up the bay. There was a lot of debris and one huge log in the water. When we surfaced we'd have to pay attention!

The visibility wasn't great, but it was still pretty good. I would say it was around 20 feet or so, even in the shallows. On the scooter out past the Day Marker, we stopped at the boulder field and one of the octopus was at home at around 70 feet. A good start! We scootered through the plumose gardens and past the Cut. Vlad found the biggest decorated warbonnet I had ever seen inside a cloud sponge. It was easily as thick as your hand, and probably close to 2 feet long. There were surprisingly few rockfish out. Normally I would see dozens, but this time only close to 10. It could have been due to the fast currents from the tides. I certainly noticed the current, and it would not have been a fun dive without a scooter!

The cloud sponges were amazing as always, and we were buzzed several times by a playful harbor seal. He was using our lights to help him hunt fish. On the way back, we spent some time looking for the missing anemones and found an area of rock where there were quite a few black circles. Whether these were new or not was hard to tell. The circles and missing anemones were definitely still present though.

Throughout the way back to the beach the same harbor seal came out of the gloom many times to hunt fish in our lights. It was a bit disconcerting, but we got used to it. The seal seemed quite happy, and we even chased him around a few times with our scooters. It was great fun.

But in the end, it was time to surface and pack it in. We dismantled our gear in an empty parking lot, under a full moon. It truly was night diving again!

HMCS Annapolis ABIS Dive 23/10/2016

Doug Pemberton of the Artificial Reef Society of BC had secured some funding to bring divers out to the HMCS Annapolis to further the Vancouver Aquarium's Annapolis Biodiversity Index Study (ABIS). Heather and I were lucky enough to be picked to go along for one of the dives.

The previous weekend had been scrapped due to very bad weather. A huge storm blasted through, cancelled ferries, and generally wreaked havoc. To be honest it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but it definitely was not a good weekend to be out on a boat!

The next weekend was good though. We met at Horeshoe Bay, ready to go out with Jacques and New World Diving. On board was myself, Heather, Doug, Dirk and an old dive buddy Cedric. I had first met Cedric way back in 2010 for a great dive in Dodd Narrows. It had been a long time! Here was our ride.

Doug brought donuts, and we were off to the Annapolis. We had not been out with New World Diving, and the boat was set up nicely. The twin ladders off the back were a nice addition. Doug was keen to help the Aquarium track species growth on the Annapolis, so that was why he was organizing teams of divers to periodically visit different areas of the ship. The key to data collection for ABIS was to take lots of video and pictures, but also to make careful notes on where on the ship you were. Also, documenting what was not there was just as key, since in the future, if something new shows up, you can tell when. This was a difficult concept to grasp, as most of the time when we are diving we look for the best picture and video possible.

The first dive plan was for Heather and I to video and photograph the bow area of the ship. Unfortunately the photo part didn't work out due to a flooded camera, but we did get good video. From my perspective life had seemed to plateau a bit, with a lot of sea stars, shrimp, and mussels, but not a lot else (at least to my eyes). According to the ABIS study, over 70 species had been observed so far, so there definitely was something happening!

On the second dive, we did the bridge and antenna circle. Even more shrimp looked out from all the nooks and crannies. Our dive team wasn't the only one with technical problems. Dirk and Cedric had a camera failure as well. Such things happen, in diving unfortunately.

Another thing that Doug had us look for was graffiti on the ship. The brown algae mat that covered the ship formed the basis of the food chain, but people had also been using their fingers to write in it. Not only were they creating annoying (and sometimes offensive) pictures and writing, it was destroying the foundation of life on ship. I guess you just can't get away from childish and fool-hardy people, even underwater. I hoped that Doug's message to the diving community would hopefully put a stop to this behavior.

Heather and I also took the opportunity to collect some data for GUE Project Baseline Halkett Bay. We stopped at Station B on top of the bridge and took temperature and visibility readings. From my recent work on this project, I even got a write-up in one of the GUE Project Baseline newsletters. Yes, that was me tooting my own horn!

If you would like to see the resulting (long!) video, here it is. Remember, it was not meant to be pretty, it was meant as documentation of a point in time, with detailed notes on ship locations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Whytecliff Park Anemone Dive 28/09/2016

After the Sea Star Wasting disease incident (which seemed less serious but still present), one of my friends Vlad Chernavsky noticed plumose anemones missing from the rocks of Whytecliff Park. The tell-tale sign was a bare black circle of rock where the anemone used to be. The black circles were quite easy to see, but what was causing them? Dead anemones were not readily seen.

In an impromptu Citizen Science effort, members of GUE-BC and Jessica Schultz from the Vancouver Aquarium met at Whytecliff Park to gather some data. The plan was to use 1 meter square quadrats and do counts of anemones along a transect. Jessica went above and beyond developing a full research plan on how the measurements would be done. Very nice!

After some practice in the park, the data collection went quite well.

Heather got some good pictures, as usual.

Getting ready to descend.

A friendly shrimp.

Some stubby squid eggs (I think!).

A very pretty Red Flabellina.

And a quite large sailfin sculpin. I never would have spotted it until Heather pointed it out!

All in all it was a good cause, and a fun time. More data collection was needed, so we would be out again for sure!

Finally, we met a very friendly shrimp. It seemed to want to come home with us!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Campbell River 24/09/2016

Heather and I took a relaxing weekend to Vancouver Island and included a dive with Pacific Pro Dive in Campbell River. It gave us a chance to see their new shop which recently opened. Previously there had been only one shop in Courtney/Comox. The new shop had a great location right beside the boat dock. We arrived at a leisurely 10 o'clock start-time. The weather was good, overcast but not raining. We had a full boat of 10 divers, although it didn't feel too cramped. We had been on the Ata-tude before, and it was laid out well for divers.

Our first dive was on a site formerly called "Training Bay". It had been re-named Expedition Bay. Captain Josh explained that even though it was a great dive site, people were often put off by the word "training". Its name came from the fact that it was a training site for commercial divers in the area. There were many things sunk in the bay for training platforms: several barges, boats and even a crane. It provided ample habitat for a large number of critters. When we descended, we came face to face with a barge that was home to baby rockfish as well as decorated warbonnets! Not a bad start. There were lots of urchins too.

From there, we headed over eel-grass beds full of more baby rockfish and a large number of red flabelina, clown and opalescent nudibranchs.

The sandy bottom and eel-grass gave way to a sloping rubble rock wall with lots of nooks and crannies. Another dive team found a very large puget sound king crab. Heather's big find was a huge grunt sculpin trying its best to hide.

We came across a medium size sunflower star, and another that looked to me to be completely disintegrated by the wasting disease.

I submitted the find to the Vancouver Aquarium Sea Star Wasting page. Jessica at the Aquarium reported to me that they were partnering with The University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) which also collected sea star observations and had a much larger database. The new website was, or you could access the observation log directly at

During the dive, we were mobbed by kelp greenlings. The commercial divers must have been feeding urchins to them, and they would come right up to you expecting a handout.

The second dive was also a new site, and a very new one at that. It was called Arbutus Wall, and it did not disappoint. Josh said it had been described as a lot like Browning Wall with so much life that you couldn't touch it. While it did have a lot of life, it was really nothing like Browning Wall in my opinion. It was still very beautiful though! The difference was that Browning Wall had much more soft coral and sponges. Arbutus Wall had a large number of cup coral and anemones, but it still had a lot more exposed rock. As far as walls went though, it was impressive. It was a true wall, with a vertical sheer smooth surface dropping into the abyss. We found a very nice juvenile puget sound king crab which was very photogenic.

There were many lampshells, swimming scallops and we ended the dive in a kelp forest hanging off the wall. The current was moving along quite well, and it was a great drift dive.

And a lovely variable nudibranch too.

All in all, another great day diving! As a final bonus, on the way back we encountered 3 humpback whales breaching the surface, as well as diving. They dove several times, giving an added treat of a full on tail up in the air. Amazing!

And finally, a bit of video.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Whytecliff Park 07/09/2016

Vlad, Sam, Todd an I planned to get out for a dive at Whytecliff. It was Sam's last dive in Vancouver as he was moving to Ontario. Unfortunately logistics worked against him and he wasn't able to make it.

There was a lot of rain on the way to the dive site, but it cleared up nicely once I arrived. Todd was already there having made the long drive from maple ridge. We had a good time chatting and gearing up while we waited for Vlad.

Once everyone arrived we checked out the Cut entry. It was good, with a rising tide and clear of logs. The visibility also looked good! I had been a bit worried due to the recent algae bloom.

In the water, the visibility did indeed hold up. Gone was the summer surface layer and you could actually see the bottom! I would say that the vis was at least 20 to 30 feet.

Right at the start of the dive we came across something interesting. A dead skate, partially eaten, was sitting on the bottom with a happy crab continuing to make a meal of it. All the pictures here were taken by Vlad.

We spent a lot of time looking at the cloud sponges, marveling at their huge size. Vlad was specifically looking for dying ones, as it looked like there were more of those lately. Hopefully it was not a trend as the large cloud sponges at Whytecliff were truly a fantastic feature.

I noted a juvenile yelloweye rockfish, as well as a very nice tiger rockfish. I believed I also saw several yellowtail rockfish, and a few brown rockfish too. I wasn't sure if the rockfish diversity was increasing, or I was just getting better at identification. I would make sure to submit my findings to the annual rockfish abundance survey.

There were an impressive number of golf ball crabs out, along with some spiny lithoid crabs. Usually those were hiding in cracks.

We didn't come across any octopus, but we did meet several groups of divers in the plumose gardens. It was quite neat to see the glow of lights as the groups met.

The highlight of the dive was in the shallows of the bay. While we swam in at least two harbour seals came and stayed with us. They were using our lights to hunt fish. It was very cool that they stayed with us for so long. Normally you might see them for a second but that was it. This time you could almost reach out and touch them several times. Granted it was a bit startling to see a big shape buzzing past you, but it was worth it.

With all that was going on, we ended up with an 80 minute dive. But, our planning took that into account and our average depth was within limits. A great time!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Nomash River Cave 1-5/08/2016

Once again we were off to Nomash River on Vancouver Island for some spectacular cave diving in our "backyard". Previous trips had been in 2014 and 2015. Jim Dixon organized this week-long expedition which included GUE-BC divers as well as GUE-Seattle divers. The full roster was Jim Dixon, Dennis Diamond, Kees Beemster, Joakim Hjelm, Nick Bowman and myself, all of whom arrived and departed at various times during the week.

I will lead with the video compilation that I put together. Enjoy!

The planning started in January, and it all came together in the first week of August (the full trip encompassed Friday July 30 to Saturday August 6). It was a fun challenge to do the logistics as different people would be bringing team resources like generators, trail building equipment, gas boosters, breathing gas, as well as their own breathing gas and supplies.

A lesson learned from past years was to reduce unneeded or unnecessary equipment as much as possible. That took work because we didn't want to leave behind anything important! This was part of the fun of planning a fairly serious expedition. While we would be 1 or 2 hours away from "civilization", having everything on hand when needed was a far better option. Not quite the same as doing a dive at your local dive site! One thing learned this year was to clarify and beef up our existing emergency plan, which while adequate needed improvements.

You could just imagine the amount of gear. This was just my truck and Dennis' jeep. Everyone had similar loads...

It was a very long and dusty drive up, but the scenery was amazing.

The weather for the week was perfect. Only one or two days had a few drops of rain. The rest of the time it was sunny. Sometimes too sunny! The heat caused large winds, which wrecked Jim's event tent. Here was Jim and Dennis before that happened. We had to rig up a lean-to with a tarp for shade after that.

Each day had at least two teams diving at Cave 2 and Cave 1 levels. Here was Jim and Dennis, and Jim and Kees, and finally Nick and Jo (I stole one of Nick's pictures).

It was a leisurely affair, with breakfast in the rising sun, a morning dive, lunch, a dive in the afternoon, dinner and then the campfire channel. Jo devoured half a bag of marshmallows by himself!

With the sun so strong, we had the brilliant idea to bring cots and hammocks into the trees. It truly was incredible to listen to the wind while relaxing in the cool breeze. We really were on vacation! Here was that view.

The trail survived the winter quite well, but it was still a challenge to go up and down. We put in more steps and did other trail improvements. I made a short video of going up and down the trail, which should give a good idea of what it was like every day. But, I didn't mind this commute!

Here was a picture of the trail from the top, looking down.

We had left wooden pallets behind the year before to help gearing up, but those were gone. The river must have flooded and carried them away. Next time we would have to store things like that further up the hill. The cave entry had been opened up due to some extensive "gardening". But the entry was still a bit unstable and several times rocks shifted while we were coming in and out. We would have to give more thought on how to get around that next year. Also, the most treacherous part was just walking around the entry. Walking over the round river rocks with heavy gear was challenging to say the least.

Jim along with Jo, Dennis and Kees, pushed pretty far back in to the cave. They discovered that it got a bit deeper than they thought (about 42 meters if I recall). However, the majority of the cave was quite shallow. The entrance section for example was only about 9 meters on average, and it was perfect for Cave 1. The main line was in good shape for the first part of the cave, but beyond that it was quite a mess. It would take a lot of work to fix it all up, and this was a great opportunity to practice a lot of skills that you really wouldn't get to do in a well-maintained cave.

Jo brought up his booster, and it helped being able to move gas around. Next time we would need more drive gas, as well as air to do additional blending. A compressor would solve that problem, but this time around we didn't have one. Something for a future trip! Here was the "booster station".

There was some flow this year, but it really was not very much. Prior to the trip, there had not been much rain at all, which I'm sure helped reduce the flow. The visibility was the same amazingly clear cold water that we had come to expect. There were some areas where percolation clouded things a little, but it was never much. Here was a beautiful shot of the exit.

And a shot of the river beyond. I thought it looked a lot like Mexico, only about 20 degrees colder!

I didn't get much video or pictures from in the cave as my lights weren't powerful enough. Jo did do some photo and video dives so I hope he got something good. However, here was a picture I was able to get of Dennis.

There was also some life in the cave. Dennis and I found some kind of swimming worm, and I do remember seeing an aquatic insect scurry into a crack. The worm had many legs (or parapodia) so it resembled a centipede, and was definitely swimming.

There were also many small trout, both in and out of the cave. I met an angler on the road, and he said the fishing was excellent.

We had one equipment failure while Jim was gearing up for a dive. The knob came off his deco bottle, and then in the process of fixing that, the bolt snap cracked in half. Fun times! Fortunately, it all happened at the surface prior to the dive.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. Thanks to all those who were involved, and especially to Jim Dixon for organizing. I really could not wait until next year! I'll leave off with a few last-minute scenic photos.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

HMCS Annapolis 23-24/07/2016

GUE Project Baseline Halkett Bay - Station Location Guide

GUE Project Baseline Halkett Bay consists of two stations, Station A and Station B. Stations consist of a PVC pipe float, a placard, and a Secchi disk. Recently test PVC pipe enclosures were also added for potential temperature logger installation.

Station A Location

Station A is directly on top of the main bridge, at about 15 meters / 50 feet of depth. It is very easy to locate.


Station B Location

Station B is more challenging to find. The most straightforward method is to head towards the bow. Upon reaching the circular area where the gun turret used to be, head to the starboard side of the deck. Descend down the ship hull, using the cut-out as a reference point. Another reference point are the Roman Numeral depth markings down the side of the hull in that area. Upon reaching the bottom at about 30m, take a compass bearing of 270 degrees. Proceed up the sloping bottom for about 1-2 minutes. You will pass over a line leading to an old crab trap. If you pass over the crab trap, you are too far to the right. Once you reach the 25 meter / 80 foot contour you should see a large outcropping of smooth rock. In the middle of that rock wall is Station B. If you miss the station, search along the 25 meter / 80 foot contour and you should find the station. Finally, if you have swam for more than 1-2 minutes, you have missed the station. The station is not far from the ship. Please note a further challenge: since this station is away from the reference point of the ship, it could be difficult to get back. Do not spend additional time searching if you do not find it immediately, and return to the known reference of the ship.

A potential (but untested) additional method that may be easier is to proceed directly to the bow. Descend there, and proceed north east to the 25 meter / 80 foot contour and follow this until you hit the rock wall.


See the below rough map for a more visual presentation.

It was a very productive weekend for GUE-BC on the Annapolis. Vlad, Kevin, and myself gathered enough information to put together the above guide. And it was a  lot of fun! First, the video compilation.

Liz Tribe had a wreck class come over from Nanaimo to train on the Annapolis, so we decided to go along. It was a perfect weekend for it, maybe a bit on the hot side, but not bad. It also gave me a chance to check out the new Sea Dragon Charters office in Horseshoe Bay. They could do nitrox fills, right there!

On the first day, Vlad and I used our scooters to locate Station B, which had been moved previously. It didn't take us too long to find it, once we had some details from Dave and Sam. After we located it, Kevin Swoboda joined us to install some of Vlad's test enclosures, and to take visibility and temperature readings. I also noted quite a large sunflower star at Station B, and submitted the sighting to the Aquarium. It was the first sunflower star I had seen in over two years. This was Station B.

 At Station A we did the same readings and installed the test enclosures. Unified team diving wins again, with the dive going off without a hitch, all work accomplished, and fun had by all! This was Station A.

 And here we were on the way to Station B.

Vlad and I had a great time scootering around. Vlad got a good picture of me.

The Annapolis had even more life on it than the last time I had been. The anemones were really starting to take hold.

There was a swimming scallop in the helicopter bay.

And a rockfish on the smoke stack.

Vlad found a winged sea slug, very cool!

There were an incredible number of fried egg jellyfish out. Several were caught on the ship railings. Here was a neat picture of Vlad and his camera rig and a fried egg jelly. I know I got a tentacle over my lip, it stung, but not as bad as a Lion's Mane sting.

If you would like to see the rest of the pictures, they are here:

We also had the opportunity to check out the second nearby dive site "Inner Sanctum". If you had enough of diving the wreck, the Sea Dragon crew could drop you off on a nearby wall. It was the best of both worlds really. Even better, there were reports of a resident wolf eel there.

Vlad and I started the dive, and began searching for the wolf eel. We were dropped at a rope hanging down from shore. From there, we descended to about 21 meters. We saw some very nice giant nudibranchs.

And a hairy lithoid crab out in the open.

But the highlight was finding the wolf eel. I had thought it would be much sooner in the dive, but it was a good 10 to 15 minutes before we came across the perpendicular log that we were told to pay attention for. Then, just beyond that in the jumble of rocks, we found the den.

So if you were looking for the den, stay around 18-21 meters, and look for the log about 10-15 minutes into the dive. We found a log very soon after descending, and that was not the right one!

All the video and pictures that I got were also submitted to the Vancouver Aquarium ABIS project page.