Bamfield is a world renowned diving location on the western coast of Vancouver Island, home to fishing and art communities in addition to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. I first heard of Bamfield and BSMC from my comrade in arms and now marine biologist in training, Jess Shultz, who completed their CAUS Scientific Diver course in 2009 after we had returned from Afghanistan. All she could say to me was “Do This Course!” when I asked about it. Fast forward to end 2009, early 2010; I’m looking to improve my diving employment prospects and start to research around getting onto this fabled course of unbridled and scientifically fuelled awesome I’ve heard so much about. After some confusing messages from the university side of the show, I contacted BMSC directly after completing my Divemaster certification in Bali and was on route to being a Auditing Student.
A few quick notes before I get into the nuts and bolts of diving in Bamfield. I attended, as anyone can, as an Auditing Student for their CAUS Scientific Diver Level 1 course. As an Audit, I paid my tuition and funds directly to BMSC; but risked being bumped by an actual student had the course filled up. Aside from that, BMSC requires a certain number of logged dives in the last year and PADI Rescue Diver (or equivalent) for entry into the course. In addition, anyone, student or otherwise, planning to take this course should bone up on marine life identification for the Pacific Northwest. REEF offers a good package that is part of the course at BMSC, but a bit of prep never hurt anyone. I recommend this course strongly to anyone interested in the research, scientific, archeological, environmental or naturalist areas of diving.
So… the diving. Official policy at BMSC is there is no recreational diving; however, there are several dive operation in the area that can take you out for some fun in Barkley Sound. This series will cover many areas that can be dove for fun, but where we dove for course. Like all dives in BC, this is cold water. Visibility can vary, depending on tide, proximity to shore, location in the sound and by how sunny it’s been. Dives near BMSC can be hit hard by algae blooms when the sun is out, so be wary, pay attention to your surroundings and ensure you follow safe practices. Some areas are influenced by wave action in the shallower depths (3-5m), so be careful around rocks and other potential hazards.
Our initial course dives occurred off the dock where the dive skiffs were moored, where we did skills assessments, fitness tests and later a rather interesting night dive. Following that we were off to Scotts Bay and our first bonafide training dives as we conducted roving surveys of marine life. Scotts Bay is a pleasant dive area, with some good rock formations, a mostly sandy bottom and a plethora of life. As we spent quite a bit of time there, it’ll be the first thing covered in part 2!