Located on Canada’s beautiful west coast, set amongst temperate rainforests, and vast, majestic mountains and scenery, you’ll find BC’s Pacific Ocean, affectionately known as the Emerald Sea.
The colours, variety and abundance of BC’s marine life are astounding. Giant pacific octopus, friendly pairs of wolf eels, huge lingcod, colourful nudibranchs, schools of rockfish, many different species of crabs, sea cucumbers, prawns, basket stars, sea urchins, scallops, barnacles. Even seals will come out to play and hunt, taking advantage of your lights during night dives. Make it a mission to find the elusive six-gill shark that roams the depths.
We won’t beat around the bush, the water is cold. The temperatures range from 44 – 56’C depending on the time of year and a dry suit is mandatory unless you are really brave. Visibility ranges from 20 to about 120 feet depending on currents and seasons. Make sure to plan your trip in either fall or winter to take advantage of the best viz. Do not forget your underwater camera – BC is well known for macro photography.
BC Diving has a little bit for every diver. The nutrient-rich tidal currents bring oxygen and food for the incredible diversity of marine life that inhabits these waters. Recreational and technical divers alike will love the sheer walls covered with blankets of starfish and plumose anemones, cloud and boot sponges. We have wrecks, drift diving, towering kelp forests, and friendly sea lions who will follow you around during your dive.
Vancouver has a slew of dive sites, the two most popular being Whytecliff Park and Porteau Cove. Both are popular dive training sites and you’d be wise to arrive early on nice days to guarantee to park. Whytecliff is better for advanced divers as extreme depth can be a factor. Visit the islet on the left side and keep an eye out for wolf eels in the cracks. Keep an eye out for the Decorated War Bonnet, an unusual looking fish that can be found hiding in boot or cloud sponges. Porteau Cove is an artificial reef playground made up of tires, 3 wrecks, concrete blocks and steel H-beams. It’s an easy dive with the majority being no deeper than about 60 feet. Vancouver is only slightly current sensitive. There are plenty of other great local dive sites. Belcarra Park can be really busy in the summer with boats and park go-ers, so autumn or winter is going to be your best bet for this one. There’s a nice rock reef to the right of the dock if you want to enjoy a long shallow dive. Bring the whole family and set them up for a picnic on a nice September afternoon while you and your buddy dive. If Belcarra Park is too busy with boats, check out nearby Whiskey Cove. A nice relaxing dive are hidden away from the park masses. Here you’ll find an island and a shallower wall dive. Cates Park in North Vancouver is great for if you get yourself a crab license, and if Porteau Cove is a little too busy with students, check out nearby Kelvin Grove, a great wall dive maxing out at about 110 feet.
Vancouver Island has a lot to offer divers, from wrecks made out of ex-Navy Destroyer Escorts to even a Boeing 737. You can go drift diving in Dodd’s Narrows, or Gabriola Pass or visit the towering kelp forests and schools of fish that call them home, littered throughout the islands. Popular for interacting with seals and sea lions, there is excellent diving at Race Rocks. Some divers claim the protected waters around Race Rocks contain the most marine life they have ever seen in one location. The Gulf Islands are also home to curious and friendly seals and sea lions, and you’ll find the stellar sea lions gathering in the area to feed on huge schools of herring during the winter. Dive off the breakwater at Ogden Point in Victoria, or head up to Clayoquot Sound or Barkley Sound and check out the amazing colors of the anemones. Keep an eye out for Humpback and Grey Whales migrating from the Baja Peninsula. Most of Vancouver Island is quite current sensitive, so most boat dives will need to be planned according to slack tide.
Northern Vancouver Island
If you can only do one dive in BC, make your way up north to the appropriately named God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park, and dive the infamous nearby Browning Pass. There you’ll find a wall carpeted with such a rainbow of life that it is almost impossible to find a square inch without anything on it. It is quite literally marine life on top of marine life. A great place to spot a Giant Pacific Octopus, if you can see it camouflaged on the wall.
Start your trip at Tuwanek Point and enjoy the large schools of fish after visiting the wolf eels that live on Lamb Islet or the left wall. Continue up to Kent’s Beach and check out the octopus colonies. Go visit the underwater bronze mermaid statue in Saltery Bay Provincial Park, but be sure to stop in Sechelt Inlet on the way there and see the incredible Gorgonian Corals in Agamemnon Channel.
BC is also home to Pavillion Lake in Marble Canyon BC, a natural wonder that features “freshwater coral”. Though technically not actually coral, these microbialites are carbonate structures that form in water with the help of microorganisms. They take on the form of what looks like the hard corals you would find in the ocean.
Diving in BC is easily accessible by flying into Vancouver on the mainland, Victoria on Vancouver Island or Seattle in the U.S. Whether you choose to stay on Vancouver Island and dive there, or some a little closer to us in Vancouver, we promise that the topside scenery will blow you away. There really is nothing quite like waking up amongst the mountains and ocean.
Besides the incredibly beautiful topside scenery, there is plenty to do to keep you busy. Go on a whale watching tour in Victoria or head up north to Tofino to watch the surfers ride the waves. Spend the day in Whistler skiing and return to Vancouver for a relaxing stroll around the famous sea wall. Take in the towering Douglas Fir trees in Stanley Park, or plan a sea kayaking trip. Head inland to the Okanagan for some fantastic camping in an almost desert-like environment. If shopping is more your cup of tea, Robson, Granville and West 4th streets will have you drooling in no time. Or check out Canada’s second-biggest mall, Metropolis in Burnaby.
Since all of this is right in our very own backyard, we believe you need to visit us at some point and give BC diving a try. The cold water really is a small inconvenience when you get to see all that BC diving has to offer.
We are sad to report that the Nautilus Swell has retired and is no longer offering liveaboard diving in BC & Alaska. Stay tuned for upcoming info about their land-based diving operations.