Explore the depth and mystery of Vancouver's underwater world
Here is a sampling of just a few of Sea Dragon’s favourite dive sites in Howe Sound - there are many more to choose from!
Howe Sound is a network of fjords situated immediately northwest of Vancouver. Howe Sound’s mouth at the Strait of Georgia is situated between West Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast. The sound is triangular shaped, open on its southeast towards the Strait of Georgia, and extends 42 kilometres to its head at Squamish. There are several islands in the sound, three of which are large and mountainous in their own right.
Spanish explorers observed the sound in 1791 and named it Boca del Carmelo. Captain George Vancouver entered the sound in 1792, and named it after Admiral Earl Howe. Though the history of Howe Sound begins with the Indigenous people, the Squamish and Shishalh, who roamed this land and traveled on this body of water for thousands of years, had village sites and camp sites spread throughout the area.
Some of our favourite dive sites in Howe Sound include:
7 years in the making, the former HMCS Annapolis is the latest artificial reef to be sunk in British Columbia. What makes this reef special is it’s proximity to mainland Vancouver. A mere 20 minute boat ride onboard our vessel Topline, will bring you to Halkett Bay, where you can enjoy dives on the 366 foot destroyer class warship.
The Annapolis is a already stunning dive, with lots to see for recreational divers, as well as more challenging areas for technical and wreck divers. A great dive for training, photographers, tech divers, and recreational divers.
Vancouver Aquarium is asking divers to share their pictures and videos to help with the Annapolis Biodiversity Index Study – A.B.I.S. The study is expected to run for five years, allowing for a fantastic and continuing opportunity for diver involvement in the program. The Aquarium is looking for any photos and video of the Annapolis. This is a fantastic opportunity to help support a citizen science project, and monitor the reef.
Marked with a mooring buoy for divers which was installed by the Underwater Council of BC, this is a dive that can range from beginner with nice areas to explore in the 30-60’ range, to advanced with deep walls. Called “The Canyons” because this is a large reef area with many canyon-like roads through it.
We tie the boat up to the mooring buoy, and divers can descend at their leisure down the line to the dive site. A pair of wolf eels inhabits this reef not far from the descent line. We also see octopus here, and lots of ling cod, kelp greenling, and rock fish. Covered in plumose anemones in shallower depths, as well as many varieties of star fish (the bottom is literally crawling with brittle stars), and a wide variety of nudibranchs – especially many giant dendronotids. The deep walls can go well over100’, and have beautiful cloud sponge and chimney sponge. Be sure to shine your light into the sponges to see the critters who hang out inside – shrimp, decorator crabs, etc.
Well protected in winter months from the Squamish winds, this is an all around great dive for all levels of divers that never fails to charm. The reef area is very large, so you can dive it many times going in different directions from the mooring buoy, and never cross the same areas.
Pam Rocks is a grouping of large and small rocks in central Howe Sound. Beautiful both above and below the water, and a nice location for any non-divers on the boat as well. This is a wonderful dive site, known for having an abundance of harbour seals lying on the rocks that are exposed at low tide sunning themselves and staring at humans. It is our best seal dive! These mammals have amazing speed and grace underwater. Sometimes the seals will join divers underwater and come right up to them wanting to play and frolic, and sometimes they are a bit more shy, take a look at the divers, then swim past.
The bottom, is a mixture of rock outcroppings, walls, sandy slopes with boulders, and ledges. There are very large plumose anemones (over a meter high in some areas), sea peaches, transparent tunicates, tube dwelling anemones, crabs, flounders, octopus, and orange dead man’s fingers. On deeper ledges are zoanthid colonies, purple and red sea urchins, quillback and copper rockfish, ling cod, and kelp greenlings. Also some splendid cloud sponge starting at 80-90ft.
There are hundreds of birds here as this is a bird sanctuary, so it is interesting above water as well as below. We often see bald eagles here on the top of the islet.This dive has a UCBC mooring buoy installed on it, as well, so we can tie up and let divers descend down the line to the site at their leisure. It is about 45-55 ft to the rock the mooring buoy is tied up to.
This dive can be classified as beginner through advanced. Much of the life is at less than 60 ft, but there is a deep wall as well that goes to depths of over 100 ft for those divers looking for a more advanced experience. In the shallower sections closer to the islet there are boulder fields on the sandy bottom.
We commonly see octopus here, orange, white, and grey plumose anemones, red, purple and green sea urchins, sea pens, sculpins, tube dwelling anemones, crimson anemones, shrimp, nudibranch, sponge, copper rockfish, painted greenling, ling cod, and gobies.
This is an underwater pinnacle that rises from the ocean floor to within 10 feet of the surface at low tide. This is a dive for all levels of divers. Also known to some as “Wedding Cake”, as it has layers that a diver can explore at whatever depth they are looking to stay within, and a flat top at 10-15 feet from the surface.
The geography is a mixture of boulder strewn sand, to terraced rock, crevices, and sheer walls well over 100 feet deep. There is a huge plumose anemone bed on one side of the pinnacle, and bright orange zoanthids covering the rocks in many areas. Lots of crabs – Puget Sound king crabs, Heart crabs, Red Rock crabs, Hairy Lithode crabs, and Dungeness crabs. Look into the cracks and under boulders with your light to find octopus and wolf eels, wherever you see broken up crab shells telling you that our friends have had a wonderful meal of crab! For fish, we see Red Irish Lords. Long cod, kelp greenlings, buffalo sculpins, grunt sculpins, copper and quillback rockfish. Occasionally our divers get a visit from a seal here who is out fishing on the Pinnacle.
Marked by a white tower with a red top, and a red flashing light at night, this picturesque location has much to see. One of our crew’s favourite dives, this can be intermediate through advanced. There is an underwater wall that goes south from the islet, and where depth is limited only by experience. A diver can also stay shallow if they like, staying on the upper portions of the wall.
Huge anemone fields cluster these rocks and overhangs. Also beds of green urchins, nudibranchs, swimming scallops, and rock scallops. The largest ling cod our crew has ever seen is in a vertical crevice in the rock at about 70’. We nicknamed this ling “Old Hitler”, in reference to a huge legendary shark there were tales of in the south. Shine your light on his big mug down there and your adrenaline will spike! In the shallower water near the end of the dive while doing your safety stop, look for signs of octopus, as we have seen some very large ones here. Lots of giant barnacles, starfish of all kinds, ling cod, striped perch, and rockfish
PASSAGE ISLAND REEF
This is a magnificent underwater mountain rising to within 20-30 feet of the surface. It lies in current-swept Queen Charlotte Channel, so all of the water flowing between Bowen Island and West Vancouver pours over this large reef area. The dive has flat rocky plains, steep drop-offs, and miniature canyons – an extremely varied site! Divers can choose their depth according to their training and experience.
This dive can be tricky, as there is often lots of current, and in the spring and early summer, the visibility can be low if there is a lot of run-off from the Fraser River (It can be great one day and not great the next day!)
Piles of white and orange plumose anemones are everywhere, and ling cod abound looking at you out of their rocks crevices. Be sure to bring a light – many octopus here! Giant barnacles, zoanthids, calcareous tube worms, green sea urchins, and yellow boring sponges coat the rocks. Sea pens, swimming scallops, rock scallops, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, lampshells, sea peaches, and glassy sea squirts reside here. On the deeper walls, there are cloud sponge, chimney sponge, Puget Sound king crabs, large purple urchins, and coonstripe shrimp. At the south end of the reef there is a garden of tall slim sea whips curling up from the flats.
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