- Published on Friday, 26 October 2012 13:50
- Written by Barb Roy
By Barb Roy and Wayne Grant
Over the years many divers have explored the nutrient rich water beneath Discovery Passage, located between the town of Campbell River and Quadra Island in British Columbia, Canada. Some have enjoyed photographing the colorful nudibranchs and rockfish which flourish in this channel or experienced the awe of huge majestic sponges and purple plumed tube worms. Others have caught friendly wolf-eels and giant Pacific octopus on video or floated past hundreds of salmon while snorkeling down the Campbell River. But this half-mile wide stretch is only part of what diving in Campbell River is all about. On average, Discover Passage contains approximately eighteen boat dives and ten or more shore dives, plus additional sites north and south of Quadra and around Cortez Island, offering even more prospects.
Since strong currents are present, most of the diving is done at ‘slack’ (when the current stops to change direction). Dive operators like Abyssal Dive Charters or Pacific Pro Dive are familiar with this procedure and know when to safely put divers in. In an effort to aid your diving pleasure we have listed below a few of the more popular sites you might want to include in your next excursion to this beautiful part of Vancouver Island. www.abyssal.com, www.scubashark.com.
At this site you can find a thick patch of kelp upon descent. Continuing down the wall to 40-feet is a great place to photograph the large boulders covered with strawberry anemones, sea stars, red Irish lords and decorator crabs. At 60-feet we found the wall where giant purple tubeworms group together. From their secure rocky holds they adorned the outcroppings as they jut out to eagerly feed it the mild current. This is an incredible sight because of their sheer size alone. Be sure to look closely because there are usually hundreds of smaller things living on and around the tubeworms! Photographers will want to remember to adjust their camera exposure to compensate for dark colors of the purple plumes.
April Point Wall
We have always liked this location because of the macro and close-up photography opportunities. As with many of the sites in Discovery Passage, huge sections of the gentle sloping terrain are carpeted with more strawberry anemones, tan and white sponges, giant acorn barnacles, yellow sunflower stars and Puget Sound king crabs. The quillback rockfish and lingcod always appear to be on the lookout here, carefully watching divers as they scout around for potential nesting places. Keep a close eye out for octopus and wolf-eels in this area, evident from the scattered remains of crab and urchin shell debris.
This dive may take a bit longer to travel to but the scenery and wildlife you might see above water (eagles and sea lions) on the way to Maud Island makes is worth the trip. To enhance the neighboring reefs the retired 366-foot long Canadian Navy ship Columbia was scuttled in 1996. After being down for sixteen years, the ship has a nice array of critters living on and under it. We have even found small clusters of purple tube worms and yellow cloud sponges growing on it! The rear mortar barrels, three pointing one direction and three pointing the other, always have something interesting attached to them. For something different, try exploring around the outside of the hull on the ocean floor or check out the crunched up bow. A few dives back we found three large octopuses near the wreck on the starboard side and the lower half of the outside hull was well on its way to being fully covered with invertebrate life.
Whiskey Point, End-of-the-Road
This is one of Earl Lowe’s favorite dives. He recommends this site along with Middle of the Road for great advanced dives, where divers often find Puget Sound king crabs, wolf-eels and more strawberry anemones. In Betty Pratt-Johnson’s book, 151 Dives, she describes it, “As though created by a painter gone deliriously wild.” I would have to agree with this description because the colorful mass of life covering the terrain is remarkable. The color is simply everywhere. Make sure however, your slack time is correct because the currents can kick up here fast!
Located between Steep Island and Copper Cliffs next to May Island, is the shallow wreck of a ferry boat. We have always done this site as a third dive because of its 30-50 foot depth range. On a sunny day with good visibility, the wreck can be spectacular. A section of the hull provides multiple openings, allowing light to pour into the large inner structure, creating a scenic wide-angle shot or a cool video. Thick strands of kelp cling to the wreck providing additional shelter for fish making me think I am diving in one of the tanks at the Vancouver Aquarium! The propellers are still attached and covered in a swath of invertebrate life.
Recognizable above water by a bluish green coloration on the rocky cliffs, rising 300 feet out of the water. This site hosts resident cloud sponges, tube worms, plumose anemones and juvenile yelloweye rockfish. Look closer for orange cup corals, small quillback rockfish, brooding anemones, nudibranchs and brittle stars. This is another site to take the time and look behind you at the hovering black rockfish and yellowtail rockfish. You will not be disappointed.
This is where Wayne and I did our shore dive on Quadra Island using Betty’s book, 151 Dives, as a reference guide. Facilities were pretty much nonexistent, with minimal parking but the entry/exit was easy. Assorted box crabs, rockfish, painted greenlings, sea pens and painted anemones were a nice treat. But the highlight of this dive for us was our timing; catching hundreds of hooded nudibranchs as they covered everything in sight! These large white, almost translucent, nudibranchs had gathered on a reef in 20-40 feet of water, making them easy to photograph and observe their graceful nature.
One of my favorite natural wrecks, the Capilano, went down in 1915 in the northern part of the Strait of Georgia, not far from Grants Reef and Mitlenatch Island. The wreck is 120 feet long and rests upright in 120-130 feet of water. White plumose anemones cover the entire top deck, while a huge cloud sponge is growing inside the hull of the bow. Watch for the immense orange yelloweye rockfish patrolling the ship, a prize to any photographer or videographer. If visibility is good, check out the propeller or look up towards the surface for a beautiful clear view. Be sure to ascend up the same line you descend down because the floating mooring lines often get cut.
Although there are many other good dives in the Campbell River area, these are just a few you might want to check out. Take a look in 151 Dives for more options or ask about the dives at one of the nearby dive stores. The two dive charters operators we have been out with are Abyssal and Pacific Pro Dive. Both Earl Lowe and Bill Coltart know the dive locations well and offer professional service with assistance in arranging accommodations.
When not diving, be sure to take some time to explore Quadra Island. Cycling, kayaking, hiking, and fishing are available seasonally. We enjoyed the ancient stone drawings (petroglyphs), the Kwagiulth Museum at Cape Mudge and watching the wildlife at Rebecca Spit Provincial Park. For divers wanting to travel with their families, there is always something for them to do.
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