After getting a substantial amount of bad press for damaging marine life while anchoring a “protest barge” off of Seacrest park, Shell oil rig protesters have relocated to another spot just north of Cove 2. In the end, they simply cut the cables and left the concrete anchor blocks, as attempting to pull everything up would likely cause further damage to the dive site. They claim that this somehow rectifies the situation, as they contributed new habitat for marine life to colonize. It’s not particularly good habitat compared with the pilings that they damaged, but hey, who’s keeping track?
The protest organizers have been in full-blown PR damage-control mode for the past week or so. The media appears to be somewhat biased in their reporting of the situation, claiming that the damage was minimal. This blog contains photographic evidence to the contrary, but they can’t let facts get in the way of their “narrative”. The group itself has issued a series of non-apologies, including the gem from this article:
“Of course the last thing we wanted to do was to do any harm to the sea life,” said Bill Moyer, executive director of the Backbone Campaign. “If we could do damage by putting down an anchor, imagine how much damage an oil rig could do in the Arctic.”
Yes, thank you for trashing our dive site and then attempting to make the whole fiasco you created into a “teachable moment” to further your own agenda. For the sake of a stupid PR stunt, you guys have just alienated numerous local divers, the majority of whom are already conservation-oriented. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have called you out on your BS in the first place. You have just demonstrated your hypocrisy, arrogance, and supreme ignorance of the underwater world to people who would have been your natural allies in the struggle to preserve marine habitat. Way to go, Backbone Campaign. Way to go.
Mosquito Fleet, a group protesting the presence of Shell’s Polar Pioneer oil rig in Seattle, has recently moored a “protest barge” off of Seacrest Park in West Seattle. It now floats above Cove 2, one of Puget Sound’s most well-known dive sites, and has inflicted some rather extensive damage on the structure and marine life there. Several concrete blocks were dropped on the eastern side of the site in order to anchor the barge. These knocked over some of the jackstraw pilings, which used to be covered with gorgeous white plumose anemones (Metridium). They also came precariously close to the Honey Bear, a sunken vessel that currently serves as a den for a large giant Pacific octopus, an iconic local species that is protected in Washington. A map of the site can be found here. All of the affected structures can be found in approximately 55 feet of water.
Cove 2, one of the Puget Sound’s most popular dive sites
The Mosquito Fleet’s protest barge, currently moored off of Alki.
The Polar Pioneer, Shell’s controversial oil rig
My friend Erin and I headed out to Cove 2 yesterday afternoon with the GoPro with the intention of cataloguing the damage. As you can see in the video, several of the jackstraw pilings have been felled, and the anemones that had been residing on them litter the bottom, many of them dead or dying. There were numerous ratfish on the scene, presumably there to scavenge whatever was churned up by the anchors dragging through the site and the collapse of the pilings. Luckily, the Honey Bear was mostly unscathed, and the octopus was still in its den when we visited. We stayed away from the cables due to safety concerns.
The structure covered in anemones at 0:42 is one of the angled pilings that was left unscathed. There used to be several of them crisscrossing one another. Beginning at 1:17, you can start to see some of the devastation left by the collapse of one of these pilings. Hundreds of anemones lie scattered about the bottom.
The damage to the site is apparent in the video. An article in the Stranger, however, has decided that this is not such big deal after all. Well I’m glad that’s settled!
And before you get too excited about the irony of an environmentalist barge mucking up an underwater dive park: Divers actually found very little damage to the park after all. If the barge had simply ripped up the cables without talking to the divers, that would have been another story, according to Global Underwater Education Seattle (GUE Seattle) president Koos du Preez.
I strongly disagree with this assessment of the situation. The structures that were knocked over have been there for decades and have provided valuable habitat for a wide variety of marine life. The devastation documented in this video clearly constitutes far more than the “very little damage”. But yes, I do agree that the damage would be much more extensive if they just rip out the cables. A fellow member of the Marker Buoy Dive Club indicated that the cable is wrapped around another piling, and that if it is moved, it will strip away all of the marine life. Let’s hope that Mosquito Fleet hires commercial divers to untangle this mess when they finally decide to move the barge.
When I communicated with Mosquito Fleet organizers via Twitter yesterday, they appeared to have no idea that their barge was parked on top of a dive site. This is consistent with their statement to the Stranger yesterday.
Kelly Mears, a crew member of the People’s Platform, said the idea that the barge may have disrupted something below the surface was personally upsetting. “The reason we chose to anchor where we did is that NOAA maps indicate it as a ‘general anchorage area,'” she wrote by e-mail. “We also cleared this site with the Coast Guard.””We certainly did not intend to damage any ecological systems in the process of anchoring,” Mears added. “It makes me kind of ill to hear that we may have, despite what I consider due diligence.”
I seriously doubt that these people did their due diligence. The sites off of Alki beach are very well known, and are frequented by numerous divers day and night. If they had spent any time near the area or bothered to research it at all, they would have known this. John Sellers, the ringmaster of this circus, lives in the Puget Sound region, and the majority of people who reside in this area know that Alki is a popular dive destination.
As of today, the barge has passed its second Coast Guard inspection (it failed the first due to numerous serious safety issues), and is still floating over our trashed dive site. It remains to be seen what will be done to rectify this environmental injustice, if anything. Many local divers, myself included, would like to see the Alki coves become part of Washington’s underwater park system so that another mistake similar to this one doesn’t happen in the future.
Our point of entry, just west of the bridge over Deception Pass.
Yesterday morning, I embarked upon the mother of all Pacific Northwest dives, Deception Pass. Located in the narrow passage between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, this site features some exceptionally strong currents and can only be visited safely at certain times of the year during low tidal exchanges. Our plan was to enter the water at the end of the flood and drift east, enjoy the middle 30 minutes of our dive in relatively little current during slack, and then drift back on the ebb. Below is a chart showing the yesterdays current situation, courtesy of Pacific Northwest tides and currents.
We met with the other members of our group in the north parking lot at Deception Pass State Park, which is a short, relatively easy walk to the entry point. We entered the water at about 9:15 AM and swam toward a sheltered cove next to the bridge, where we waited for the current to diminish. After waiting there for an additional five minutes, we were able to safely make our descent.
The dive was timed so that we would hit slack current during the middle of our dive at around 9:30 AM.
This dive site is truly one of the most breathtaking locations in the Pacific Northwest. Terrain varied from piles of large granite boulders to sheer walls carved out by the extreme currents that regularly rip through the passage. Much of the hard substrate was covered by a carpet of large barnacles, dark purple tubeworms, orange sea cucumbers, and glove sponges. With the exception of a few large lingcods, kelp greenlings, and an assortment of small sculpins darting about, fish were few and far between – this was definitely a dive for invertebrate enthusiasts. We found several different species of nudibranchs here, including the lovely leopard dorid featured in the video below.
Visibility was not as spectacular as I would have hoped for during this dive, although it did clear up once we descended to 20 feet. We had very little trouble with current due to our nearly perfect timing, although we did encounter a back eddy on the surface during our swim back to shore. Overall, it was a fantastic dive, and definitely one any experienced current diver should try at least once. If you pay close attention to what the currents are doing and plan your excursion carefully, you will have a blast.
A medium-sized lingcod hanging out near the Cathedral.
This afternoon, I decided to pay a visit to one of my favorite local dive spots, Bruce Higgins Underwater Trails in Edmonds. My dive buddy Erin and I headed in at low tide and encountered many interesting fish, including numerous quillback rockfish, some extra-large lingcod, and a very agitated cabezon. The visibility was mediocre at around 10 feet, which seems to be pretty typical for this time of year.
Two large Puget Sound king crabs (Lopholithodes mandtii) cozy up to each other in the shallows.
After diving in the Puget Sound region for nearly two years, Matt and I finally got around to diving Skyline Marina in Anacortes with the Marker Buoys. About 2 hours north of Seattle, this site is frequently named as one of the most beautiful and interesting dives in the area. We timed so that we hit slack before ebb (3.2F > 6:22 PM > 1.0E), and the current situation was perfect. It would have been a fantastic dive if it hadn’t been for the less than stellar visibility, which was less than 5′ all the way down to at least 90′.
I can see how this site would be a phenomenal place to dive under better conditions. One of the most striking aspects of this dive was the fields of colorful sea cucumbers decorating the granite slopes. I also saw my first Puget Sound king crabs in the wild; two rather large individuals were holed up in an alcove at about 20′, possibly engaged in some sort of mating behavior. Their coloration closely resembles the surrounding rocks, and I probably would have passed them by had they not been pointed out by another diver. I also noticed that there were numerous red Irish lords and kelp greenling hanging out mostly in the 50-80′ range.
After spending a fair amount of time in the 60-80′ range, Matt and I decided to gradually make our way up the slope and did our safety stop at about 20′ in the large seagrass bed close to the entry point. Overall, it was an interesting dive, and one I would like to try again later in the year when the visibility is better.
A red rock crab (Cancer productus) hunts for mussels on a piling.
Yesterday, my buddy Erin and I visited the fuel dock at Mukilteo, also known as the tank farm. It is about a 400 meter surface swim east of the T-dock and is one of the best places to dive for Dungeness crab in all of Puget Sound. It is also a very interesting site with tons of fish and invertebrate life, and is far more interesting than the T-dock as far as I’m concerned. Max depth for most of the site is about 18 meters. I have yet to explore all of the site, but hopefully I will be able to get out to the far end of the pier before it gets torn down later this year. The Port of Everett hopes to demolish the pier soon and put in a new ferry terminal. It’s too bad that this interesting and diverse aquatic community is about to be obliterated, and there are a lot of local divers who are very upset about loosing their favorite crabbing grounds.
Below is some footage I shot of the site yesterday afternoon, and I made it into my first “virtual dive”. You can see why this site is so unique – there are literally carpets of Dungeness crab here in the summer by the time crab season opens. They likely favor this location because it is built on their preferred sandy/silty sediment, and the huge clumps of blue mussels growing on the pilings are an important food source. I have also seen huge groups of spotted ratfish here on occasion, but we had no such luck during this dive.
Last weekend, I went for a dive with the MBDC off of Sunrise Beach Park in Gig Harbor. This site is somewhat difficult to access, and involves a long walk up and down a hill in full dive gear past a yard full of angry, snarling Rottweilers. It is also current sensitive, and it is imperative that you check the tides and currents before heading out there. But despite these difficulties, this site is most definitely worth the extra planning and effort.
A large giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) rests underneath a shelf.
The wall begins about 50 yards south of the entry point, about 100 feet from the beach. This site is teeming with life and features a diverse community of fishes and invertebrates, including wolf eels, several species of nudibranchs, and some of the largest giant Pacific octopuses that I have seen while diving in Puget Sound. Green sea urchins and Pacific pink scallops were the most abundant invertebrates at this site. Most of the group drifted south at approximately 50-60 feet for about 20 minutes, and then slowly made our way north again for the rest of the dive. We made it to the wall a bit before slack, so there was relatively little current working against us on the way back.
A beautiful sea lemon nudibranch (Peltodoris nobilis) cruises next to a green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis).
Below is a video featuring some of the critters we encountered here. Thanks to my buddies Fritz and Joyce for showing me around this cool site!
Over the Valentine’s Day weekend, Matt and I went on a highly romantic camping/ SCUBA trip along the Hood Canal. I had been advised by several of my diver friends that this was a place we needed to visit before leaving Seattle, so we decided to take the initiative and check out this area while the weather and visibility were still nice.
Me and Matt looking scruffy post-dive at Sund Rock.
We decided to spend the night at Potlatch State Park. After setting up our campsite, we geared up for a night dive off the beach, which was located about a quarter mile away. We were concerned about our car being locked in overnight if the rangers decided to close the gates while we were underwater, so we decided to hoof it. This involved dashing across US-101 in our dive gear and weights. We also hit the beach at low tide, so we had to carefully maneuver through slippery cobble and oyster beds in the dark. The site itself wasn’t particularly interesting. It was basically a gently sloping plain of silt featuring some junk scattered here and there, with seagrass beds in the shallows. We observed numerous flatfish, blackbelly eelpouts (Lycodes pacificus), snake pricklebacks (Lumpenus saggita), roughback sculpin (Chitonotus pugetensis), and Northern spearnose poacher (Agonopsis vulsa). Common invertebrates included sea pens and graceful and Dungeness crabs, and many of the female crabs were carrying eggs.
The next morning, we began our day of diving at Octopus Hole. This site is located right off of US-101. We parked on turnout on the eastern side of the highway large enough to accommodate 3 to 4 vehicles. The entrance is at the base of a steep hill, and we had to amble over boulders in our dive gear in order to reach it. It was definitely worth the effort, however. After a short surface swim about 50 feet offshore at about 145 degrees, we descended in about 15 feet of water and hung out there in order to give my ears time to clear. The visibility was superb, and there were large aggregations of plumose anemones and shoals of striped seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis) and copper rockfish (Sebastes caurinus) hanging out around the top of a 30 foot wall. The base of the wall was located at about 60 feet, and hundreds of blackeye gobies (Rhinogobiops nicholsii) swarmed the rocky bottom. We headed south along the wall near the bottom, and ascended to the top of the wall as we swam back. Current was not a huge problem, although we did encounter a bit on the surface as we made our way back to the entry point.
Our next stop was SundRock, which is located just south of Octopus Hole along US-101. Although there is free public access, it involves a trip down a steep, wooded hill in full dive gear and and extensive surface swim. Bearing this in mind, we decided to visit Hood Sport ‘n Dive, a local dive shop that offers convenient access to the site via their private beach for $16 per person. Upon seeing the free option, we both agreed that it was money well spent.
It is a fairly complex dive site with lots of structure and things to see. A local diver that we encountered recommended that we head out to the North Wall to begin, and then end the dive in the “Fishbowl”. Heeding his advice, we swam out to the appropriate buoy and descended along the line. The visibility was quite poor in the first 10 feet, but rapidly cleared up to about 35 feet as soon as we made it past the surface layer. The top of the wall was located at about 30 feet, and drops to about 80 feet at its deepest. It featured numerous nooks and crannies that contained some of the largest wolf eels that I have ever encountered. There were large aggregations of rockfish belonging to several species, including copper, quillback (Sebastes maliger), vermillion (S. miniatus), and black (S. melanops). We cruised along the bottom of the wall for the first part of the dive, and swam back along the top, where we encountered several angry lingcods guarding multiple clutches of eggs. We did our safety stop in the Fishbowl area and hung out with some large schools of striped seaperch before ending the dive.
Overall, it was definitely an interesting excursion with some excellent dive sites. Although the visibility was excellent, it would be interesting to see if there were any more fish present during the summer months.
On February 1, while everyone was busy watching the Superbowl, we led a small group of Marker Buoys on two dives at Keystone Jetty. This site is located near the Port Townsend ferry terminal on Whidbey Island. It is a bit current sensitive – there is some danger of getting swept around the end of the jetty and into the ferry terminal if you dive it on an ebb tide. Both of our dives began just before slack, so we were able to enjoy this amazing site without having to swim against the current.
The main attraction at Keystone is the abundant marine life. You don’t need to go any deeper than 50-60′ to encounter a diverse community of fishes and invertebrates, including kelp greenlings, lingcod, and numerous species of rockfish, sculpins, and nudibranchs. The abundant plumose anemones covering the boulders are truly a sight to behold. One can also dive the pilings on the east side of the inlet.
Many species of fish reproduce this time of year in Puget Sound, including lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus), the largest member of the greenling family (Hexagrammidae). These fish typically spend the majority of their time resting on the bottom and pay little attention to divers, but during the winter, the males ferociously guard their eggs, which resemble clumps of styrofoam. Near the beginning of this video, a small male lunges at the camera in an attempt to keep Matt away from his nest.
We also encountered two large giant Pacific octopus (Enterocopus dofleini). This is the largest species of octopus in the world, often exceeding 100 lbs. However, they only have a lifespan of three to five years. They are nocturnal and spend the daylight hours sleeping in their dens, but you can sneak a peek at their tentacles if you are brave enough to shine your flashlight in there.
Yesterday morning, my friend Erin and I met at Seacrest Park for a leisurely dive at Cove 3. It is often overlooked and written off as a training site due to the popularity of the adjacent Cove 2, which admittedly boasts more structure and marine life. Indeed, much of Cove 3 is comprised of unimpressive fields of sand and sea lettuce, but the pilings and rock piles on the north side of the site are definitely a fun place to play.
The visibility was excellent, at times exceeding 30 feet. This is typical for Puget Sound this time of year, as there is not yet enough sunlight to support the plankton blooms that cloud the water during the spring and summer. The most common fish species at this site appeared to be striped seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis) and shiner perch (Cymatogaster aggregata), which circled the sunken pilings in large schools. Other resident fish included painted greenlings (Oxylebius pictus), kelp greenlings (Hexagrammos decagrammus), quillback rockfish (Sebastes maliger), buffalo sclupins (Enophrys bison), red Irish lords (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus), rock soles (Lepidopsetta bilineata), and spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei), a distant relative of sharks. We also spotted several clumps of squid eggs, as well as moon snails (Euspira lewisii) and diamondback Tritonia nudibranchs (Tritonia festiva) on the sandy bottom.
I was able to capture most of the dive using Matt’s new GoPro. Click on the link below to see a compilation video of some of the interesting creatures that we discovered at this site.