Tag

Pacific

Diving British Columbia’s Browning Pass and God’s Pocket Provincial Marine Park

Canada, Underwater Photography

“The Best Cold Water Diving in the World” Strong words. True? Probably. I recently spent a week diving in and around Browning Pass, a spectacular underwater ecosystem at the very north tip of Vancouver Island on the West Coast of British Columbia. The area is home to many islands, islets, passages and narrow straights. Extreme daily tides mean a lot of water is moving, continually with the exception of a few slack tide moments each day, producing strong currents that are amplified in the narrow waterways. Such currents bring a steady supply of nutrients to the carpets of invertebrate life that cover the area’s undersea reefs. While I was with Richard Salas last year photographing Steller sea lions — marine mammals being a big interest of mine — he showed me lot of spectacular images from a place called “God’s Pocket”. The images convinced me to join Richard at God’s Pocket for a week and check it out myself. I’m generally not a critter guy nor a macro photographer, but I figured what the hell. British Columbia is said to be some of the best diving in the world. I reasoned I should see it once in my diving career at least.

Hurst Island and Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Hurst Island and Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo.
Image ID: 34464
Location: Gods Pocket Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada, Metridium farcimen

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34326
Species: Giant Plumose Anemone, Metridium farcimen
Location: British Columbia, Canada

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Urticina piscivora

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Image ID: 34327
Species: Fish-eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Alabaster Nudibranch, white-lined dirona, Dirona albolineata, Vancouver Island, Dirona albolineata

Alabaster Nudibranch, white-lined dirona, Dirona albolineata, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34329
Species: Alabaster Nudibranch, White-Lined Dirona, Dirona albolineata
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Fleshy Sea Pen, Ptilosarcus gurneyi, Vancouver Island, Ptilosarcus gurneyi

Fleshy Sea Pen, Ptilosarcus gurneyi, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34334
Species: Fleshy Sea Pen, Ptilosarcus gurneyi
Location: British Columbia, Canada

In mid March I made my way from big-city Seattle to small-town Port Hardy. Port Hardy is at the far northern end of Vancouver Island, meaning my dive trip was also a road trip. The ferry rides and winding empty highways are a driver’s delight. The landscapes — rugged coastline, snow-capped mountains and dense forests — are beautiful. I had forgotten how much I love Vancouver Island. I met up with others in Richard’s group, we loaded up our gear on the boat “Hurst Isle” and made our way to rustic, comfortable, colorful God’s Pocket Resort on Hurst Island, in God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park. Tucked away in a quiet cove, the resort sits on sturdy pilings over the rocky shoreline at the edge of a dense stand of cedar trees. It could not be more scenic. Bill Weeks and Annie Ceschi run God’s Pocket Resort and took fantastic care of us for a week. We ate superb food, relaxed thoroughly, took in the sublime beauty of the islands at all times, and three times each day we shared in the spectacular diving the area has to offer.

Pink Soft Coral (Gersemia Rubiformis), and Plumose Anemones (Metridium senile) cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Gersemia rubiformis, Metridium senile

Pink Soft Coral (Gersemia Rubiformis), and Plumose Anemones (Metridium senile) cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34330
Species: Pink Soft Coral, Plumose Anemone, Gersemia rubiformis, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Urticina piscivora

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Image ID: 34331
Species: Fish-eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Spotted Leopard Dorid, Diaulula odonoghuei, Vancouver Island, Diaulula odonoghuei

Spotted Leopard Dorid, Diaulula odonoghuei, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34338
Species: Spotted Leopard Dorid, Diaulula odonoghuei
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada
Image ID: 34340
Location: British Columbia, Canada

White plumose anemones Metridium senile with purple sponge and barnacle, Vancouver Island

White plumose anemones Metridium senile with purple sponge and barnacle, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34341
Location: British Columbia, Canada

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Urticina piscivora

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Image ID: 34346
Species: Fish-eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Browning Pass and Balaklava Island, location of the best cold water diving in the world, aerial panoramic photo

Browning Pass and Balaklava Island, location of the best cold water diving in the world, aerial panoramic photo.
Image ID: 34472
Location: British Columbia, Canada

We would typically leave Hurst Island, round Balaklava Island and dive Browning Pass between Balaklava and Nigei Island. About half the time we would be diving on walls, and virtually every dive had a variety of terrain if not actual walls. Water temps were in the low 40s, something I am not accustomed to, but I made do with my dry suit. I am a sluggish cold water diver and mainly settle down on the bottom and try to find cool stuff that doesn’t move to photograph while ignoring how painfully frostbitten my fingers are. I don’t move around much when I am frozen. But there is no need to go far on these Browning Pass dives — everywhere is an explosion of life. Sure, some walls have more colors than others, some are pure white, some are covered in bull kelp, etc, but rarely can a spot be found where one can put one’s hand down without touching animal life. I was stunned at the density of invertebrates. Fish — they were nice but I’m not too interested in rockfish and rockfish-looking species. But the inverts — holy anemones were they over the top! So overwhelming was the underwater sight-seeing that I did a poor job of actually taking photographs. I often did not know which way to point my camera, there were lush and exotic subjects in every direction. With the limited underwater time that we man-fish have while SCUBA diving I was a little frantic in my photography, wanting to get a record of every thing and consequently doing well at very little. I have been doing this long enough and have experienced so much let down in underwater photography over the years that I knew going into the trip I would likely do a poor job and thus had lowered my photographic expectations way way down. So when I returned home and found I had a few keepers, I was able to declare success! Such is the skewed mindset of the underwater photographer.

Purple sponge with white and orange metridium anemones, below bull kelp forest, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Nereocystis luetkeana

Purple sponge with white and orange metridium anemones, below bull kelp forest, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34347
Species: Bull Kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Lopholithodes mandtii Puget Sound King Crab amid a field of plumose anemones and red kelp, Queen Charlotte Strait, Canada, Lopholithodes mandtii

Lopholithodes mandtii Puget Sound King Crab amid a field of plumose anemones and red kelp, Queen Charlotte Strait, Canada
Image ID: 34348
Species: Puget Sound King Crab, Lopholithodes mandtii
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Hooded Nudibranch Melibe leonina on kelp and rocky reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada, Melibe leonina

Hooded Nudibranch Melibe leonina on kelp and rocky reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34353
Species: Hooded Nudibranch, Melibe leonina
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Clown Nudibranch, Triopha catalinae, Browning Passage, Vancouver Island, Triopha catalinae

Clown Nudibranch, Triopha catalinae, Browning Passage, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34354
Species: Clown nudibranch, Triopha catalinae
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Anemones cling to Bull Kelp Stalk, Browning Pass, British Columbia, Nereocystis luetkeana

Anemones cling to Bull Kelp Stalk, Browning Pass, British Columbia
Image ID: 34357
Species: Bull Kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada
Image ID: 34361
Location: British Columbia, Canada

White Plumose anemones Metridium senile and Yellow Sulphur Sponge, Vancouver Island, Metridium senile

White Plumose anemones Metridium senile and Yellow Sulphur Sponge, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34366
Species: Plumose Anemone, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Colorful starfish and anemones cling to submarine rocks, on the subtidal reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Metridium senile

Colorful starfish and anemones cling to submarine rocks, on the subtidal reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34370
Species: Plumose Anemone, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Colorful anemones cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait.  Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks

Colorful anemones cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait. Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks.
Image ID: 34379
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada, Metridium farcimen

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34389
Species: Giant Plumose Anemone, Metridium farcimen
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Red Irish Lord resting amid Plumose Metridium Anemones, Browning Pass, British Columbia, Metridium farcimen

Red Irish Lord resting amid Plumose Metridium Anemones, Browning Pass, British Columbia
Image ID: 34391
Species: Giant Plumose Anemone, Metridium farcimen
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Plumose anemones cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada, Metridium senile, Nereocystis luetkeana

Plumose anemones cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34395
Species: Plumose Anemone, Bull Kelp, Metridium senile, Nereocystis luetkeana
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Pink Soft Coral and Barnacle, Gersemia Rubiformis, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Gersemia rubiformis

Pink Soft Coral and Barnacle, Gersemia Rubiformis, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34425
Species: Pink Soft Coral, Gersemia rubiformis
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Colorful anemones and soft corals, bryozoans and kelp cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait.  Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks, Metridium senile

Colorful anemones and soft corals, bryozoans and kelp cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait. Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks.
Image ID: 34429
Species: Plumose Anemone, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo
Image ID: 34470
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park.
Image ID: 34497
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Photographs of Clipperton Island, Ile de Passion

Aerial Photography, Clipperton Island, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

In May of 2017 I was fortunate to join an expedition to Clipperton Island (more info on Wikipedia’s Clipperton page). Organized by Michel Labrecque and Julie Ouimet and conducted under French permit HC / 1485 / CAB with generous support from Oris Watches and many others, our two-week trip used San Jose del Cabo as the launching point. The boat Nautilus Undersea (formerly Undersea Hunter of Cocos) — a very capable and seaworthy dive boat — would be our home at sea. Hailing from Canada, France (including New Caledonia), England, Mexico and the United States, our talented group of scientists, journalists, geographers, film makers, explorers and photographers spent 6 days at the tiny, remote atoll.

Aerial panorama of Clipperton Island, showing the entire atoll.  Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a small (2.3 sq mi) but  spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

Aerial panorama of Clipperton Island, showing the entire atoll. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a small (2.3 sq mi) but spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32835
Location: Clipperton Island, France

My primary interest was simply to experience the trip, to relax and allow myself to absorb as much of the island as I could with all my senses without getting too bogged down with the distraction of photography concerns. I have visited and dived most of the notable remote islands in the near eastern Pacific, from California’s Channel Islands south to the Galapagos archipelago, many of them repeatedly, but I had not yet seen Clipperton Island so in that sense it was very high on my bucket list of islands. In spite of the fact I will probably never return to Clipperton Island, I had no real photographic agenda. I brought a drone, three underwater cameras and one topside camera and just let the daily pace of the trip govern which I would pick up and use and where I would point it.

Coconut palm trees on Clipperton Island, aerial photo. Clipperton Island is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

Coconut palm trees on Clipperton Island, aerial photo. Clipperton Island is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32846
Location: Clipperton Island, France

The diving at Clipperton Island was very nice with healthy coral reefs and a variety of familiar-looking fish species. I was most impressed with the vast fields of huge, round Porites lobata coral heads. In many parts of the reef these enormous Porites clusters have grown together into a single shelf 20-50 yards across, very impressive indeed. There was a considerable amount of fishing gear found on the reefs, and our sitings of sharks were few and far between, evidence perhaps of fishing pressure on the shark species although that is not a certain conclusion.

Topside the island is harsh: little shade, no water, and very hot. Sunburn was a real risk since the equatorial sun would not only strike exposed skin from above but also reflected from the ocean as well as the bright white coralline rubble beaches. How the seabirds survive at Clipperton, or any of the similar islands, is beyond me. Most notable is the amount of plastic debris found on the island, testament to the seemingly insurmountable amount of plastic now present in our oceans. Several members of the scientific team performed surveys of the various plastics found on the beach to better understand where the debris is originating and how it is composed.

The French tricolor flag flies over Clipperton Island at sunset. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

The French tricolor flag flies over Clipperton Island at sunset. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32902
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Photographically, I was happiest with the aerial images I made with my drone. I put the flying camera in the air as often as I could, 6-8 times a day, learning what did and did not work as far as composing sweeping panoramic views of the island as well as images depicting details of the lagoon, palm groves, beaches and Clipperton Rock. There is really no way to fully appreciate the beauty of Clipperton Island without seeing it from a position of some vertical relief. The contrast of the deep, clean, blue oceanic water surrounding the crisp white beaches, surrounding a contrasting set of green, black and orange lagoon hues, can only be appreciated by the birds that inhabit the island, the occasional airliner flying far overhead, and now, thanks to drones, us.

Below are a few of my favorite images from the trip, or you can see my entire Clipperton Island photo gallery. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Aerial photo of M/V Nautilus Undersea at Clipperton Island.  Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a small (2.3 sq mi) but  spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

Aerial photo of M/V Nautilus Undersea at Clipperton Island. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a small (2.3 sq mi) but spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32886
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Aerial panorama of Clipperton Island, showing the entire atoll.  Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a small (2.3 sq mi) but  spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

Aerial panorama of Clipperton Island, showing the entire atoll. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a small (2.3 sq mi) but spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32889
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Clipperton Rock, a 95' high volcanic remnant, is the highest point on Clipperton Island, a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

Clipperton Rock, a 95′ high volcanic remnant, is the highest point on Clipperton Island, a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32940
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Blotcheye soldierfish and Clipperton Island coral reef, Porites sp, Porites lobata, Porites arnaudi

Blotcheye soldierfish and Clipperton Island coral reef, Porites sp.
Image ID: 32951
Species: Porites lobata, Porites arnaudi
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Blue-spotted jacks and coral reef, Clipperton Island

Blue-spotted jacks and coral reef, Clipperton Island.
Image ID: 32952
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Fishing Longline, Wrapped and Embedded in Coral Head, Clipperton Island

Fishing Longline, Wrapped and Embedded in Coral Head, Clipperton Island
Image ID: 32955
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Blue-striped Snapper and Panamic Green Moray Eel on coral reef, Clipperton Island, Gymnothorax castaneus

Blue-striped Snapper and Panamic Green Moray Eel on coral reef, Clipperton Island
Image ID: 32957
Species: Panamic Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax castaneus
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Coral reef expanse composed primarily of porites lobata, Clipperton Island, near eastern Pacific, Porites lobata

Coral reef expanse composed primarily of porites lobata, Clipperton Island, near eastern Pacific
Image ID: 32963
Species: Porites lobata
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Underwater ROV Preparing to Dive at Clipperton Island

Underwater ROV Preparing to Dive at Clipperton Island
Image ID: 32964
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Coral reef expanse composed primarily of porites lobata, Clipperton Island, near eastern Pacific, Porites lobata

Coral reef expanse composed primarily of porites lobata, Clipperton Island, near eastern Pacific
Image ID: 32998
Species: Porites lobata
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Bigeye Trevally, Bigeye Jacks, Caranx sexfasciatus, Clipperton Island

Bigeye Trevally, Bigeye Jacks, Caranx sexfasciatus, Clipperton Island
Image ID: 33021
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Brown booby, Clipperton island, Sula leucogaster

Brown booby, Clipperton island
Image ID: 33088
Species: Brown Booby, Sula leucogaster
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Nazca Booby, Clipperton Island

Nazca Booby, Clipperton Island
Image ID: 33093
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Plastic Trash and Debris, Clipperton Island

Plastic Trash and Debris, Clipperton Island
Image ID: 33098
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Sunrise over Clipperton Island, Panorama

Sunrise over Clipperton Island, Panorama
Image ID: 33103
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Aerial view of the lagoon inside Clipperton Island.  The lagoon within the atoll was formerly open to the ocean but has been closed and stagnant for many decades. Some experts believe erosion will open the lagoon up to the ocean again soon. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

Aerial view of the lagoon inside Clipperton Island. The lagoon within the atoll was formerly open to the ocean but has been closed and stagnant for many decades. Some experts believe erosion will open the lagoon up to the ocean again soon. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32866
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Aerial view of the lagoon inside Clipperton Island.  The lagoon within the atoll was formerly open to the ocean but has been closed and stagnant for many decades. Some experts believe erosion will open the lagoon up to the ocean again soon. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)

Aerial view of the lagoon inside Clipperton Island. The lagoon within the atoll was formerly open to the ocean but has been closed and stagnant for many decades. Some experts believe erosion will open the lagoon up to the ocean again soon. Clipperton Island, a minor territory of France also known as Ile de la Passion, is a spectacular coral atoll in the eastern Pacific. By permit HC / 1485 / CAB (France)
Image ID: 32878
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Booby Bird Carcass on Barren Coral Rubble Beach, Clipperton Island

Booby Bird Carcass on Barren Coral Rubble Beach, Clipperton Island
Image ID: 33095
Location: Clipperton Island, France

Skiff and Palm Trees, Sunrise, Clipperton Island

Skiff and Palm Trees, Sunrise, Clipperton Island
Image ID: 33102
Location: Clipperton Island, France