Diving the Algae Bloom

photo by Franki Beaney

photo by Franki Beaney

Comfortably uncomfortable was the phrase coined by Jess in her post on the importance of diving training, and it came up for me during a recent diving experience. During the dives in Howe Sound, we were diving through an algae bloom, and as a result, conditions were less than ideal. Diving under these conditions in the emerald green waters of BC can be harrowing for new divers, and difficult for experienced divers. So what is an algae bloom, and how does it affect a dive?

For divers in cooler climates, algae blooms are just a reality of life from the late spring to early fall. Warming upper layers of water, bathed in sun, become a breeding ground for phytoplankton and other microscopic critters, who thrive in the warmed conditions. The result is a think, cloudy layer in the water, where visibility can drop to less than one metre rapidly. Pushing through it, and the thermoclines that separate it from the cooler water below is no relief either. The waters off of BC, and many other cold areas, is very dark on its own, never mind with a light obscuring cloud in the top layer. It is not unusual for dives like this to move into near or complete night diving conditions.

So how do you train and prepare for this? Well, night diving experience and training is very good. Being used to handling dive lights and the extra claustrophobic conditions are important. Descent and ascent under these conditions can be difficult as well. We were lucky, in that all of our dives were on walls and a pinnacle, providing a ready reference to descend and ascend on. Other solutions are things like using a marked down line. Key though is keeping your buddy in sight, which means teamwork until you push through is extra important.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, diving within your comfort level is key to not only diving safety, but also to enjoying the sport and activity of diving. Stress reactions can turn a challenging dive into a terrible one quickly, so knowing your limits is good, and diving within them is better. It’s better to gradually push the envelope than to jump in feet first sometimes!

About the author

Graeme is a professional diver, qualified as a PADI and SDI Divemaster, DCBC 40m Unrestricted Commercial Scuba Diver, 30m Restricted Surface Supply diver, and CAUS Scientific Diver Lv.2. Graeme has an Associate Degree of Arts in Environmental Studies, where he focused on archaeology and physical geography, and an Advanced GIS certificate.