Photo: Pacific Underwater: A winter's dive

Much of terrestrial nature sleeps in the colder season. But life is exploding just under the water's surface. (Credit: Degan Walters)

By Degan Walters, David Suzuki Foundation Ocean Keeper

Snow dusts the mountaintops, the skies and water are a uniform grey and the creek draining into the dive site is icy cold. Family barbecues and laughing children that crammed the seaside parks only a few months ago are now long gone. There's no one here but us divers.

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This is the best time of year to be underwater in B.C. As more light reaches into depths free of phytoplankton and bull kelp, visibility is incredibly clear. Just a few feet beneath the surface, water temperature doesn't change much from summer to winter, so with proper diving gear there's nothing to worry about.

The seafloor topography is as diverse as it is topside, with steep walls, boulder fields and sandy flats. You can also dive in shipwrecks exploding with life as artificial reefs. B.C.'s coastal waters are deep emerald green from nutrients brought by rivers and streams which also bring life: Underwater forests of plumose anemone, large chimney boot and cloud sponges covering rock walls teeming with crustaceans, schools of perch swimming above, rockfish darting in and out of cracks, dozens of crab species scavenging and nudibranchs almost everywhere you look.

(Credit: Degan Walters)

Winter is spawning time for many fish, so it's not uncommon to see beautiful painted greenlings, ling cods as big as dragons and delicate grunt sculpin all guarding their egg masses. The big Pacific cod, seals and sea lions all come closer to shore during the cold winter months. Wolf eels and giant Pacific octopuses are active year-round, but you see more juvenile octopuses in wintertime, and that's always a treat. On the smaller side, there are many polychaete worms in the water now — some spawning — but most come out at night.

If you're a diver or want to learn so you can see what's going on underwater, I highly recommend winter diving — just have a hot chocolate after. If you plan to snow ski, make sure you do it the day before (not after) to avoid getting the bends!

If you're passionate about the ocean and want to help us work to protect it, join our team of Ocean Keepers.

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March 4, 2014

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