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Going deep: exploring the waters off Vancouver Island with winter diving

‘This is improbably one of the best cold-water diving locations in the world’
Vancouver Island is one of the best cold-water diving locations in the world, according to divers. Photo by Maxwell Hohn

Vancouver Island has a wonderful reputation for so many things - not the least of which is scuba diving.

“This is improbably one of the best cold-water diving locations in the world,” said Haley Isles, of Pacific Pro Dive, in Courtenay. “We have a massive amount of diversity off the Island. The life we have around here is unreal, and a lot of people don’t even know about it. I grew up here and I didn’t even know some of these things.

“The octopus, the sea lions, and a lot of the soft corals and anemones, give us quite a bit of colour.”

Surprisingly, wintertime is actually a preferred time for scuba diving in these parts due to its strong visibility.

“I know sometimes in the summer, due to run-off, and we get quite an algae bloom, because of the heat, so it kind of makes the water a little more pea soupier,” she noted. “Although the summer is when we see the majority of tourists coming in, the winter months here for diving is pretty spectacular. I know the rain is a little daunting, but it’s great.”

The local diving community is growing immensely, and there has actually been a slight increase in interest since the pandemic arrived, she added.

“It’s kind of forced people to say, ‘OK, what can I do in my own backyard?’ and we have been running a lot of courses … we have people who would normally go to Mexico at this time of year, have discovered that maybe the West Coast (of Canada) is the place to be. We are also getting a lot of locals who are coming out because we are getting a lot of sea lions here and there is the chance for some really awesome sea lion encounters. That’s a huge draw. And we have sites where we know that there are wolf eels and maybe you will see those in their den.”

Among the treasures the coast of Vancouver Island can lay claim to is the giant Pacific octopus - one of the largest octopuses in the world. Isles said interactions with octopi are special.

“We actually have a dive site near the Powell River ferry, it is a sunken sailboat, laying in sand, and within the sailboat, in every single crevice, it’s just loaded with octopus. And it can be incredible because they really can be quite massive. That can be a real thrill for people who have never seen an octopus before.

Haley said octopi are highly intelligent, and rather curious creatures, that will interact with humans.

“They are really well-thought-out with their actions. They will most of the time, accept your hand if you offer … you will get the odd one that is really playful, and will come and interact with you. It’s quite an experience.”

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