I refer to Nanaimo BC as Vancouver Island’s “front door” because it opens up to a variety of diving activities to suit anyone’s needs. There are 8 to 12 excellent boat dives and several good shore dives to pick from.
Popular wrecks include the retired naval ships Saskatchewan (111m/366f) and Cape Breton (122m/400f) scuttled as artificial reefs in 1997 and 2001 by the local dive community and the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia (ARSBC). The latest edition is a 47m/157ft North Sea Rescue Tug Rivtow Lion scuttled in 2005. Technical and extended range divers like to practice their skills in and on the two larger wrecks while photographers and naturalists enjoy them all. Maximum depth on the Saskatchewan is 36m/120ft, the Cape Breton – 43m/142ft and the Rivtow Lion – 24m/80ft.
If wall diving is your pleasure, huge deep walls can be found at Snake Island and Orlebar, on Gabriola Island. The Snake Island wall has enormous white plumose anemones cascading down sandstone formations, dotted with bright pink snakelock anemones, red blood stars and orange finger sponge. I have also seen wolf eels out in the open at 12m/40ft and clusters of cloud sponge at depth. In between dives, snorkeling with resident harbour seals is always an option. Orlebar is steeper, hosting an array of odd shaped chimney sponge (boot sponge), tiger and quillback rockfish and an assortment of crustaceans. This is also a shore-accessible site utilized by technical divers.
As for drift diving, there are two narrow passageways where the currents reach 8 knots at full flow. This in turn provides a nutrient-rich environment for a multitude of invertebrate life to flourish. Both are divable during slack times (when the water stops to change direction). Dodd Narrows is located southeast of town between Nanaimo and Mudge Island.
Brilliant giant green anemones and aggregating green anemones with pink tips line the shore of Mudge in the shallows, along with yellow zoanthids, orange cup corals, and metridium anemones on the boulders below. Patches of orange colonial tunicates, burrowing sea cucumbers and several species of rockfish can also be found at depth.
Gabriola Passage is equally as picturesque, hosting a population array similar to Dodd. In addition I have found red sea urchins, gray encrusting lobed ascidians, cabezon fish, grunt sculpins hiding in empty giant barnacle shells and the ever brave little painted greenlings. Small healthy aquarium-like kelp forests are located at both ends of both channels.
Long Lake Waterfront B&B offers qulaity private accomadations and is an excellent day trip center to all activities on Vancouver Island.
Text by Barb Roy