Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Posts from the ‘Biodiversity’ category

The Need to Dive

The Marine Detective in a bull kelp forest. Photo: G. Miller

Due to weather and other circumstances, I did not go diving this weekend. As a result, I feel rather “undone” and out of sorts.

It has become essential to my well-being to submerge in the North Pacific at least once a week.  Is this because I am addicted to the nitrogen buzz? Do I need the rapture that comes with descending into such natural beauty and wonder?  Is it because I get to “check-out” of my terrestrial life for a little while?  Does diving move me into a meditative state?  Do I miss my fishy and sluggy friends? Do I need the inspiration and perspective on what it truly important in life?  Or is it because I was a sea lion in a past life and have not made the full transition to a human existence?

All of these factors may in part cause my desperate need to dive but Dr. Joseph MacInnis states it all so much more eloquently and powerfully in this excerpt from the introduction to his book “Saving the Oceans” (text which I wrote on the first page of my first dive log).

“Of all the acts that confirm our unconscious need to reconsider Nature, few are as symbolic as descending into the ocean. As scuba divers . . . we step off the land, leaving behind our urban alliance with concrete and asphalt. Underwater, our survival hinges on containers of portable air. Inside this strange inner space, we become weightless, drifting toward our aquatic origins.

As trespassers in this other world we are more susceptible to shifts in thinking and emotion. Our eyes are captured by unfamiliar colours and patterns of light and shadow. The pressurized air sliding in and out of our lungs reminds us of our mortality. And from this, it is not a large intuitive leap to consider the mortality of the planet.”

I need to dive!!

Diving After the Storm – My 600th Dive

Today, despite a powerful storm, I completed my 600th dive (thank you dear buddy, Jacqui Engel).

Vermillion rockfish.

Six hundred dives is not such a big deal if you are a warm water diver. However, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold waters of Northern Vancouver Island and, it does feel like a big deal.

I only started diving when I was 36. Now, at age 47, I have been diving less than 11 years and have thereby averaged a dive per week over this time. It’s the equivalent of about 19 days underwater.

I am not usually boastful (I think) but it seems really significant to acknowledge this milestone and to try to share why diving is so important to me.

In an attempt not to be too earnest though, I try to express “Why Dive?” by way of some bad poetry.

Why Dive?

Opalescent nudibranch.

Constricted by my dry suit,
Thirty pounds bound to my waist,
Hunchbacked by my cylinder,
A mask suctioned to my face,

I leave the world we’ve cultivated,
To attempt to meet our every whim,
To where Nature’s voice can still be heard,
Far above civilization’s din.

No governments, no borders,
Nor economies present.
When down here, I’m reminded,
Of life’s depth and true intent.

I’m an awkward and brief visitor,
In this world of colour and perfection.
I fill with humility, wonder,
Passion and quiet introspection.

Red rock crab near a sand-rose anemone.

For Mother Ocean is home to life,
Older than mammals can comprehend.
I’m grateful that I may learn from her,
Leaving solid ground when I descend.

Diving brought me greater purpose,
Love, vision and camaraderie.
I think that what some find in a church,
I find  . . .  deep . . . within the sea.

On to the next 600 dives.

Postscript: There was additional “poetry” to today’s dive because it took place after a very powerful storm. Flooding caused the ocean to turn chocolate brown.

This “after the storm” dive further made me reflect on how diving is like a metaphor for life’s greatest challenges. At the risk of the repercussions of exposing you to bad poetry AND “Hallmark-esque” reflections,  I will only share the following:

  • Even in darkness, there is great beauty (as evident by these blog images from today’s dark dive).
  • When you don’t know where you’re going, trust in your compass.
  • And, when in the depths of it  . . . just breathe.

With great thanks to those who have made me the diver I am.

Come Away With Me

Come on. You know you want to, just for 3 minutes.

Come on the dives I did today.

The little slide show I have put together, is a testimony to the grand, jaw-dropping biodiversity of this area (Northern Vancouver Island, B,C., CANADA).

The Minke whale we saw, the fish using a sponge as a hammock, the bald eagle chick that took one of its first flights – all these are animals that I have learned from by knowing a small part of the world’s ocean well enough to be able to recognize individual animals.

Such a privilege and such a joy to share with you.

Come away with me . . . . click here.

Below the Kelp

It’s the day before summer begins and  . . . what a day it was.

We had radiant sunshine and a flat-calm ocean during our dive today.

I can think of no better way to share the beauty and wonder of today’s adventure than to take you below the kelp with me.

Please see today’s images at link below. I have included captions that provide a bit of information about the species we were so fortunate to see.

Come below the kelp – by clicking here.

One Dive – Photographic Essay

Swimming anemone at Stubbs Island, N. Vancouver Island, BC

Today there was quite a small tidal exchange which allowed us to dive a more challenging site, Stubbs Island.

On larger tides, this island receives so much current that eddies and big upwellings form. All this churning water means there is abundant oxygen and plankton delivery so the density of marine-life on Stubbs Island is truly mind-blowing.  There isn’t a centimetre of rock that does not have something growing on it.

I would like to share my images from this dive today. I hope they give a sense of the awe-inspiring beauty and biodiversity of our Northern Vancouver Island marine “backyard”.

I’ll let the photos do talking.

Click here for the photos of  –  just one dive at Stubbs Island.

Journey Through Kelp

Bull Kelp is so beautiful, especially now in the early spring when the young “sporophyte” stage is growing at an insanely fast rate. The stipe (stem-like structure) of this kelp species, Nereocystis luetkeana, can grow to be up to 36 m long. The stipe would have to grow an average of 17 cm a day to reach this length in the 210-day growing period (source: Druel). 

If you include the growth of the fronds (the leaf-like structures), the maximum growth rate has been documented to be at least 25 cm per day (source: Duncan). 

Baby bull kelp

Baby Bull Kelp

It is at this early stage of growth too that Bull Kelp is an intense colour green unlike anything else I know. When older, the colour darkens to an olive green. 

Kelp is an alga, not a plant. However, like plants, algae also photosynthesize, converting the sun’s energy into food. Algae have simpler structures and different chemical pathways than plants.

Young Bull Kelp grows so fast to allow the leaf-like parts, called “fronds”, to be closer to the sun so that more food can be made.  

Sun streaming through a Bull Kelp forest.

The round, floating part of the kelp, is the “pneumatocyst”. This bladder-like structure is completely hollow and is filled with carbon monoxide (NOT carbon dioxide), allowing the long fronds to drift at the surface to catch the sun’s rays. 

Apparently, there is enough carbon monoxide in Bull Kelp to kill a chicken! Now that’s valuable information. See my blog “Enough Carbon Dioxide to Kill a Chickenat this link. 

The stipe is also hollow. I’m sure it is not what Nature had intended, but this allows we humans to play the stipe of Bull Kelp like a trumpet or didgeridoo! The stipe gets thinner and whip-like near the holdfast which is why Bull Kelp likely got its name because the stipe is shaped like a “bull whip”.

Bull Kelp does not have roots. Rather it is a “holdfast”, a tangle of  woody structures, that anchors Bull Kelp onto rocks. However, if rocks are too light to counter the floatation of the pneumatocyst, the kelp will actually change the ocean bottom by carrying away smaller rocks, likely ending up washed onto the shore. 

Bull kelp holdfast. No roots.

Bull Kelp holdfast. No roots. See my blog on holdfasts at this link. 


Bull Kelp always grows in patches, truly forming an underwater forest that is life-giving for the same reasons as terrestrial forests: kelp forests buffer the climate change gas carbon dioxide; produce oxygen; and provide food and habitat for so many other organisms. Bull Kelp forests are, in fact, estimated to provide habitat for some 750 species of fish and invertebrates (animals without backbones).

Sea urchins are one of those invertebrates, living in the forest and grazing on a lot of Bull Kelp. If Sea Otters, Mink, Wolf-Eels and other predators of urchins did not keep urchins in check, there would be further reduced kelp forests. Sea Star Wasting Syndrome has devastated the world’s largest sea star species, the Sunflower Star (Pyncopodia helianthoides) which is a predator of Green Urchins. This has led to too many of these urchins and an increase in the number of urchin barrens. Please see my blog here for information on urchin barrens and Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. 

Kelp forests are not what they used to be for reasons far beyond our foolishness in over-harvesting Sea Otters. There used to be such dense forests that it is theorized “Ancient humans from Asia may have entered the Americas following an ocean highway made of dense kelp.

All coastal boaters still benefit from kelp. It is a navigational aid since, where it grows, you know you there is shallower water.

We divers have yet an additional reason to value kelp.  Since it is so strong,  we can hold onto it if we need to during our safety stop (3 minutes at 5 metres depth) or if needing to gradually pull ourselves down into the depths or back to the surface.   

Oh – and you can eat it. (I love pickled young Bull Kelp!) 

And yes, you could do puppet shows with Bull Kelp, cutting a face into the bladder like you would into a jack-o-lantern. The fronds even look like two pig-tails! 

THEN there is how Bull Kelp reproduces. The offspring look nothing like their parents. Please see here for my blog on the remarkable phenomena that is “alternation of generations”. 

But for now, come underwater with me. Come into the forest, breath in, breath out and worship the kelp!

My additional blog items on kelp include: