Diving in Barkley sound for two weeks was an amazing experience, as it’s home to some of the finest cold water diving on the planet. With the exception of mucking about by the dock for training dives and a night excursion, all the dives were boat based. The remote nature of the area, the fact that many dives are around islands or rocks and limited beach entry points makes this by necessity a boat dive/charter operation.
The dive sites range from rock walls leading down into stygian black depths from the cool emerald waters around you to sand and broken shell with pebbles to rock strewn areas with thick kelp forests. Life is abundant and varied, although a sharp eye is needed to spot some of the smaller, more skittish members of the local marine life. In some of the more outlaying islands and rocks, caution needs to be taken in shallower areas like the 3m zone, as wave action can and will batter you against the rocks!
We went to a lot of dive sites during the Scientific diver course, but four stand out for me. Scotts Bay, Helby Island, the Hosie Islets and Baeria Rocks. These were the locations of my most memorable and enjoyable dives during the Scientific diver course, and all but one are open to the public. Baeria Rocks are an ecological preserve, and are not normally open for any activities. We were privileged to be able to conduct the biodiversity survey there, with two dives and a list of marine life to watch out for. More on that later though.
Scotts Bay is a multilayered dive with a bit of something for everybody. The bottom is sand leading to strewn rocks and eventually little “islands” of rock nearer the shore. The depth is generally within 11m to see things, as it turns rapidly to sand and nothingness as you head out from shore and into the sound. In May/June, the water is a pleasant 10˚C and owing to shallow depth, a 7mm wetsuit is workable for the more robust divers. Life was good, especially around the rocks and kelp. Octopus, various rockfish, gobies and more are there, and the bottom boasts a small Sea Pen population as well. The current can pick up in a few areas during tide changes, but over all it’s a quiet site for diving. We did numerous dives there and I enjoyed them all!
The Hosie Islets and Helby Island are good cold water wall dives, with great life and great visibility. To put in in perspective, The Hosie Islets are where we completed the REEF level 2 marine life identification tests. We were limited by the course to 20m of depth at both locations, but on a fun dive you could easily take it to your limits and see even more than we did! Even though my Sealife DC1000 perished to O Ring failure at Helby, I still enjoyed the dive enough to list it here. Of the locations open to the general public, these two have some of the best photo opportunities in the area.
Baeria Rocks are an ecological preserve for sea birds and several plants, and as said before, are not normally open to the public. If you have a chance to go there, I recommend it highly! The wave action here in the shallow depths can be quite severe, so try to stay 5m or deeper. The life out here, in the more exposed part of the sound, is awesome. The rockfish are many, varied, and huge! There are more types of sea stars, and a selection of invertebrates to whet the driest of jaded palates. The dives we did were again limited by the course we were on and the rules of CAUS (Canadian Association of Underwater Science), but on a private trip, you’d be free to explore to your hearts content. The water is clear and emerald, and you’ll have to compete with your friends for who saw the coolest thing.
Barkley Sound, Bamfield and the area are without a doubt some of the best cold water diving locations in the world, and are definitely a highpoint for divers visiting BC. I was there on course last time I was there, but I plan on headed back there for fun… and maybe the next Baeria Rocks survey!