Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Britannia Beach Wrecks 25/11/2018

I'll start off with the compilation video I made, if you want to start there!

As 2018 was coming to a close, Project Baseline put out a call to submit any data to the database from any of the existing stations. GUE-BC has maintained a station at Britannia Beach, and Vlad and I decided to get out there and recover the temperature sensor he developed. Back in 2017, we did the same thing. A lot of data came out of the sensor, and you could see it by looking at the database entry for the site. The spikes in data were very pronounced!

Project Baseline's mission was to collect temperature and visibility readings from citizen science divers to build a "baseline" view of the oceans and other bodies of water. This year was very exciting as the database had been upgraded to support a more modern platform. You could now search the database with mobile and web browsers!

I found an interesting article on the wrecks at Britannia Beach. Some time soon I'd have to gather more information about them. I put together a very rough map of the site here.

Years ago, someone had put together a much better map. But that link long since stopped working. The red circle was the place to park by the highway. A trail led in to the red X, which was the entry point. Another entry existed across from the Galileo Coffee Company, but it was a bit harder to get in to. The wreck locations are not to scale, but provide a rough idea of where they are. The red stars are the location of the Project Baseline sites.

On the drive out, it was looking rough and choppy, and the weather report called for wind and rain. Thankfully it turned out to be a pretty darn good day. The snow was on the mountains!

The entry looked pretty good. A lot of logs, but doable.

In the water, Vlad and I were pleasantly surprised at the visibility. It was excellent! We actually measured 8 meters of vis, or roughtly 25 feet. Very good!

On the swim out, I found a welding mask on the bottom. I didn't get a picture, but I did ham it up for Vlad. Our funny picture opportunity was a phone we found. Here was Vald trying to make a call!

We swam past the CCGS Ready and explored a bit towards the north. We discovered a new wreck, the remains of a barge with a crane attachment. This was not there last year! It was less than 5 minutes past the Ready, at about 10 meters.

On the way, we came across a cute little octopus hiding in a tire.

At Station A, at the stern of the Ready, it was looking pretty good. The site had been installed over 4 years ago in 2014.

And here was the backside of the marker, note the cylindrical temperature sensor that we were there to recover.

Station B looked great too. Vlad posed for the camera.

There was plenty of life, with schools of perch, yellow nudibranchs, and giant dendronotids.

A fried egg jellyfish got caught by an anemone.

 The visibility was the star. Here was Vlad inspecting the bridge of the Ready.

And the bow.

I noticed some evidence of sea star wasting. I submitted a report on this to the sea star wasting tracking page. Here was one with just a portion of an arm left.

Probably the most interesting discover we made was a very large and long concrete pipe leading off into the depths. This was very close the entry point, but we had never discovered it before! Clearly it deserved some exploration in the future.

UCBC Halkett Bay Sponge Dive 12/11/2018

Adam Taylor of The Underwater Council of British Columbia arranged a dive of the glass sponge bioherm near the Halkett Pinnacle in Halkett Bay Provincial Marine Park. Many will know this site by a different name (Spongebob). Huge thanks to Adam and Sea Dragon Charters for the amazing dives, and for bringing together such a varied cross section of divers for comments on diving the site. Vladimir Chernavsky and myself were lucky to represent GUE-BC, thanks to Liz Tribe. GUE-BC had been building relationships with the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of BC and now the UCBC. The opportunities for citizen science, photogrammetry, Project Baseline data collection and collaboration were very exciting!

This was an "outreach" day to introduce a broad cross section of divers to the new mooring buoy that the UCBC had installed at the site. It was a heroic installation, and professionally done. I was able to see some of the install photos, and it was some serious underwater work!

Neil McDaniel provided a sponge biology talk as part of Adam's dive briefing. It was very informative and detailed.14 divers were on the outing including Greg McCracken, Deirdre Forbes McCracken, Hamish Tweed, Amy Oxox, Rebecca Barrett, Amy Liebenberg, Diana Belton, Neil McDaniel, Doug Swanston, Vladimir Chernavsky and myself. Also along were Vanessa Heal & Andy Wiggs who helped with topside video and photos. There were several interviews done of the dive teams as well.  Rounding out the day were 4 additional divers on Glen Dennison's boat including John Congdon & Tanya Prinzing.

From my perspective the day could not have been better. While not sunny, the rain held off. Loading up the boat went smoothly and efficiently.

The wind played a bit of havoc with current and waves. This made it challenging to catch the new mooring buoy, but Adam and the crew of the Sea Dragon did a great job. What really made the dive was the visibility. It was amazing. Coming down the new line, you could see the sponge reef from at least 40 feet away. It was magical, as this photo from Vlad showed.

On the first dive, Adam suggested everyone just orientate themselves with the site. The mooring buoy was anchored to a bedrock outcropping. Surrounding it was bare rock, with a few sponges. It was a perfect place. Here you could see two divers near the line.

From the buoy, navigation was quite simple. Heading North East would bring you to a drop off, and following that to the North would bring you into the main sponges. Carrying on to the North East would bring you through a saddle of mud, to the main bioherm. To be honest, skipping that and following the crest of sponges around back to the mooring buoy was a great way to go. The Aquarium had a temperature sensor installed on the ridge, which we found.

The number of divers on the site was impressive. Here was Adam leading a group on a tour.

And more divers!

Everywhere there were quillback rockfish. I counted over 20.

And several juvenile yellow eye rockfish.

Schools of perch were everywhere too, glinting in the lights.

But the stars of the show were the beautiful sponges.

It was too bad, but the day would have to come to an end. I put together some video from the trip, and will leave off here with it!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Sea Dragon Charters 28/10/2018

I went out on a fun Sunday dive with Sea Dragon Charters. I had not been out to the Annapolis in quite a while, and had to miss the big GUE-BC trip out the previous day. I met up with Brian and a new dive buddy Terry from Alberta for a fun day of diving. Captain Bob was in charge along with Gavin.

We did the Annapolis first, and it was Terry's first time. I was able to give him the full tour, starting from the hangar bay, to the bow, to the stern, around the smoke stacks and done. Unfortunately the visibility was not the best, but we did see a lot of life. I noticed a lot more sea stars and nudibranchs than I had in the past. Also there were quite a few larger rockfish.

For the second dive, we had Captain Bob take us over to the wall to the east. My goal was to try and find the wolf eel that was there. Alas, it wasn't to be. The wolf eels eluded us. However, the visibility was a bit better and we had a very good dive. We spotted a lot more nice nudibranchs, with a golden dirona being the prettiest (it was Brian's find).

We met up at the Troller Pub in Horseshoe bay after for some snacks and conversation. It was a great day of diving!

Guiding Local Dives 12-15/10/2018

Some great cross-pollination happened this weekend. First off, David Watson (whom I had met at the GUE conference) came up from California and I took him and Aron Tremble on a tour of Porteau Cove. Then Heison Chak (whom I had also met at the Conference) contacted me to act as a dive guide to his old friend Dicky Leung, who had only ever dove fresh water. All of them got a great exposure to what the beautiful waters of BC have to offer! It was also a great excuse to take two days off of work.

A great group photo of myself, Dave and Aron at Porteau.

Me playing tag with a ling cod.

A photo of Dicky and myself at Whytecliff.

A great picture of an encounter with a seal sunning itself on a rock (look closely).

And a happy diver!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Key West Florida 07/09/2018

Florida reef diving was always fun and relaxing. Heather and I were down in Key West for vacation, and fit in a day of ocean fun with Captain's Corners. Leslie was great getting us booked in, and the boat crew of Levi, Amanda and Jen were excellent. The fresh water hose on board for rinsing was amazing!

There had been a recent tropical storm, and the visibility really hadn't recovered yet. It wasn't bad, maybe 20 to 30 feet, but it could have been worse! We had been looking at the normally crystal clear water with some trepidation. The weather however was perfect. Not too rough and not too hot.

Our first dive site was Eastern Dry Rocks. It was a set of shallow reef fingers. I was able to try out a new travel sized wing, and a new 3mm wetsuit. Both worked a treat. We saw quite a few things. The highlight was all of the reef fish, and the discovery of some underwater treasure. A relatively new cell phone was sitting on the bottom in a protective case. It must have been dropped very recently as nothing was growing on it and I donated it to the boat crew. My pocket shorts came in handy to store it while we finished the dive. The pocket shorts looked dumb, but they worked!

The second dive on Rock Key was the best dive of the day. We saw a spiny lobster, green moray eels, groupers, spiny urchins, moon jellies and lots of pretty reef fish. I saw some kind of green insect too.

The coral health seemed OK as well. Not amazing but not bad, which was good to see.

On the whole, a fun day! I would highly recommend using Captain's Corners.

And finally, a short video...

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Nanaimo 18-19/08/2018

The Nomash River cave trip got cancelled due to wild fires in the area. There was a fire burning near the town of Zeballos, which was only 10 km away from the cave. Also there was a fire threatening the only access road. We planned for emergencies, but this was too much. We decided to put the trip off until the situation improved. It was ironic that we needed rain to keep the fires down, but don't want rain to dive the cave! Instead, Jim invited me over to dive around Nanaimo. It was a nice consolation.

Saturday we went out with Nanaimo Dive Outfitters and went to Elephant Wall (it was a bit too rough to go over to the wrecks). I'd not done Elephant Wall yet, so that was great! The ride out was indeed rough. Elephant Wall was near Gabriola Wall. Ewan Anderson came along with us and we planned for a nice long scooter dive. Captain Steve got us in the water with his usual aplomb, but Ewan and I had some challenges meeting up with Jim in the back eddy by the wall. The swells were high so it was difficult to keep the team together. But we sorted that out and off we went. Having the scooters really helped overcome the current and rough conditions.

We pretty much scootered the whole dive. The wall was excellent with lots of giant scallops and rockfish. There was a big overhang much like Gabriola Wall which was festooned with giant plumose anemones. I found the whole dive very relaxing.

Back on board, we headed to the Rivtow Lion wreck in Nanaimo harbour. The water was just too rough to be pleasant that day. I'd not done the Rivtow in forever so I was looking forward to it. We left the scooters behind as the Rivtow didn't need them. We splashed and had fun doing a quick light recovery as we dropped one, whoops. No fuss, though. On the wreck I had forgotten how big it was. Another dive team actually found an octopus on the deck, but we missed it. We did a bunch of swim throughs, found several freakishly large decorated war bonnets, and enjoyed the schools of perch swimming about the structure. It was a very fun and pretty dive. Here was Ewan and Jim checking out the bow.

After a great evening chatting with Jim, it was back to diving! We met Greg Nuttall at Tyee and did another scooter dive. I'd not seen Greg for some time. We went out to Dolphin cove and back. It was one of the best scooter dives I'd had in a long time. The visibility was excellent, we kept our speed leisurely and just enjoyed the trip. We came across two octopus out in the open and the usual several Puget sound king crabs. We did search for the wolf eels but came up empty.

We were off to Madrona next, where we left the scooters behind. A very serendipitous meeting happened there, where we met the sister of David Watson whom I had met at the Florida cave conference! She and her husband Aron Tremble, a GUE fundies diver, had just moved to North Vancouver! You never knew who you would meet out diving. So now I had a new dive buddy to show around!

Without scooters we still managed to see all three walls. Greg tested out the electronic compass of his dive computer and it seemed to work well. He put us on the marker for the wall with no issues. We lost count of the number of octopus we saw (it was at least 7 or 8). One den had the remains of 6 crabs outside, the octopus sure were well fed at Madrona. Most were monster size too, but it was hard to tell as they were all sleeping in cracks.

Here was another octopus hiding.

The visibility was not as good as Tyee, but decent.

The thermocline was much more pronounced. Under 18 meters it was very chilly. Above it was almost tropical!

There were thousands of mating opalescent nudibranchs on the sand flats. They were seriously every where. This was a very green picture of them

Try as we might we did not spot any wolf eels unlike the last time I was there. We even tried to check out the top of the little wall, which was where Steve from NDO had said there were some. No luck.

I spotted 6 or 7 sunflower stars. Two were adult size but the others were smaller. I did see one set of wasting remains, but it was for a different species. This was more encouraging evidence that the disease that hit two years ago was on the decline.

For me the highlights of the dive were the octopus, but another was finding a few sailfin sculpins. One was sitting right on a rock, camouflaged. 

We also came across a really big cabezon that wasn't also doing its best to hide. Jim likened them to a grouse, you can't see me, so I'm not going to move. Often you could poke a cabezon and it still wouldn't move.

After the diving we went to the Rocking Horse Pub. It was a place I'd always wanted to go, but had always been in a rush. The pub was great and there were lamas. The made the oddest noise!

A fantastic bunch of diving and a fantastic visit with some good friends. The ferry ride back really showed just how bad the fires and smoke situation was, however. A spectacular sunrise was one consolation.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Tyee and Madrona 07/08/2018

Jim Dixon had me over for some diving in the Nanaimo area, and it did not disappoint!

We hit up Tyee Beach first. It had been some time since I had been, and there were major improvements. Gone was the brambly path, to be replaced by a park, a bathroom and change area. Quite the upgrade!

Jim and I planned to scooter out to Dolphin Beach along the wall that ran to the left of the Tyee entrance, then come back. It was a great looking day.

On the wall, we came across four nice Puget Sound king crabs. Here was one of them.

We also saw three tiger rockfish, which I was quite excited about. I don't get to see these that often. Jim laughed later that he couldn't figure out why I kept pointing them out, because he saw them all the time. A highlight was the large yellow-eye rockfish. That was one thing that Jim didn't see shallow that often.

The best part for me though, was the lewis moonsnail at the end of the dive. These ugly things were always awesome to me!

I made a funny video out of our moonsnail encounter here:

For our dive at Madrona, it was even better. I joked with Jim that we would see 8 octopus and 6 wolf eels. He was definitely skeptical.

We scootered out to the big wall, and right at the start, came across a juvenile wolf eel in a crack. I was super excited! Jim signaled me if I would take some video, and I signaled back yes. When I reached into my pocket, no camera. With a sinking feeling, I pulled everything out to double check. Nothing. I got Jim's attention and signaled that I lost my camera, and to go back and search. I hoped I had just not clipped it off properly and that it had slipped out onto the sand. While looking, I replayed gearing down at Tyee. I then remembered that for some reason I had put my camera back into its case and put it into my dive bag. Certain that I knew it was not lost, I called off the search. Good that I didn't lose it, bad that we kept seeing so many great things!

In the end, we saw 6 octopus, 3 wolf eels (a juvenile and a new mated pair). Scores of opalescent nudibranchs, 1 big sunflower star and 5 smaller sunflower stars, a bright red gunnel, and a juvenile yellow-eye rockfish. There were a few pretty lion's mane jellyfish to round things out.

It was a truly epic dive. Madrona never seemed to disappoint!

Alert Bay 06/07-10/2018

Heather and I planned some diving in Alert Bay, and it turned out excellent as always. I took a side trip to visit Sointula as well. It was a Finnish community on the nearby Malcolm Island. It really was pretty!

An eagle greeted us on the way over.

The beaches of Sointula...

Our diving adventures were under the old breakwater as usual. Our first critter was a large helmet crab trying to remain inconspicuous.

The giant plumose anemones were spectacular as always.

I found a skateboard of all things!

The large painted anemones on the dock pilings always made good photo subjects.

The Red Irish Lords near Alert Bay were not as colorful as some, but they were still amazing.

A saddleback gunnel tried not to be seen in the shallows.

The visibility was excellent as always. Here is a shot looking up towards the surface between the dock pilings.

Another photogenic Red Irish Lord.

A moon jelly. We saw a few small lion's mane jellies as well.

I got a good picture of Heather waving to the camera.

Diving under the old breakwater always reminded me of being inside a Cathedral.

There was a very cool green kelp isopod. The picture came out blurry, but the video of it swimming turned out better. I had only seen this in the Aquarium before.

What was very encouraging were all the giant sunflower stars. Every time we have been back now, we have seen more. The sea star wasting disease seemed to be abating. We made a point of submitting all the sightings we made (I think there were 6 total, compared to last year when we saw 2).

I wasn't sure if this was another Red Irish Lord, or a buffalo sculpin. It sure was cool!

I put together a video compilation as well. I hope you enjoy!