Category Archives: Puget Sound

Oil rig protesters trash local dive site; destroy marine life


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.

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.

Mukilteo Fuel Dock

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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.

Sunrise Beach Wall

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.

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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.

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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!

Hood Canal

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.

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 Sund Rock, 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.

Map of Sund Rock dive site

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.

Keystone Jetty

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.

Alki Cove 3

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.Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 10.39.30 AM

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.

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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.

Crabstravaganza 2014!

On Sunday, Matt and I successfully conducted our first crab hunt. I had been wanting to do this since we first arrived in Seattle, and was planning on a bountiful harvest of succulent Dungeness this summer, but unfortunately, fate had other plans. So when I found out that crab season had been extended until December 30 for certain marine zones in Washington, I was ecstatic. We decided to conduct our hunt at the Mukilteo T-dock, where I have seen throngs of Dungeness and red rock crabs during past dives.

Since Matt had not been out in open water for a while, we decided to warm up with a leisurely dive at Edmonds first. The visibility was still excellent, over 30 feet in some areas. Massive schools of shiner perch, pile perch, and tubesnout swirled around us. We also encountered a spotted ratfish, quillback rockfish, cabezon, and numerous massive lingcod. White-lined dirona nudibranchs covered the seafloor.

After a relaxing 50 minute dive, we filled up our tanks again and headed to Mukilteo. The visibility was excellent here as well, but we did encounter a bit of a current as we headed into deeper water. However, we did not need to go past 40 feet to harvest some decent-sized crab. Most of them were congregating under the dock, as expected, along with dozens of spotted ratfish. For an idea of what it was like, here’s a video of some freedivers rounding up Dungies near the oil dock, which is several hundred yards north of where we were diving. The crab population was not nearly as dense at the T-dock, but we still managed to get a good haul.

It took us about 50 minutes to round up 4 Dungeness and 4 red rock crabs of the appropriate size and gender. We tossed them in the cooler and headed home to feast on our bounty. Matt steamed them and served them with red potatoes, which was a simple but delicious meal. We had about a pound of meat leftover, which we plan on using for crab cakes. We will definitely be going back for more soon!


Crabs in the cooler!


Three of our delicious Dungies, steamed and served with red potatoes. Nice presentation by Matt!

Three Tree Point

Yesterday morning, I joined several other divers from the Marker Buoy Dive Club at Three Tree Point. Since the visibility in Puget Sound has been so good recently and life is still abundant, I decided that this would be a good time to try my hand at underwater photography. I used Matt’s Canon 5D with a wide angle lens.

I decided to do a preliminary run in the shallows just to get used to the new equipment. While I was there, I came across a bay pipefish (Syngnathus leptorhyncus), just hanging out on the bottom in about 6 feet of water. This was apparently a rare sighting – some of the other divers had not seen one in years.

Bay pipe

After getting comfortable with the camera, I exited the water and waited for my dive buddies to get ready. We descended in 6 feet of water, made sure all of our equipment was in order, and swam down the sandy slope.


On the way down, I encountered several white-lined Dirona nudibranchs (Dirona albolineata), sculpins, mottled sea stars, and hermit crabs amongst the kelp. The sea stars were few and far between, but those we found showed no sign of the wasting disease that has devastated populations of numerous sea star species on the west coast over the past year. Joyce also spotted a tiny Pacific spiny lumpsucker resting on some kelp, but I didn’t have the right kind of lens to get a good photo of it.


A white-lined dirona (Dirona albolineata).

Nudi and Crab



We got down to about 80 feet and began to encounter some sunken structures, such as a small boat and a pile of tires. Life was abundant in and around these features. Numerous medium-sized rockfish were tucked into the nooks and crannies, accompanied by gunnels and painted greenlings. We located a small wolf eel hiding out in some pipes as well. Several spotted ratfish flapped around the perifery, and flatfish scooted about in the sand.


Wolf Eel

A baby wolf eel hides in a pipe.


A local holocephalan and my favorite Pacific northwest fish, the spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei).



After about 45 minutes, we gradually ascended up the slope and did our safety stop at 20′. At this point, the batteries in the strobes were beginning to fail, so I was unable to get many good pictures of the life in the shallows. I did manage to capture a decent image of a rock sole, however.

Rock Sole

It was a fun dive overall. I did get a bit cold, as my drysuit has a leaky exhaust valve on the left arm that I have yet to repair. My surface air consumption rate has gotten even better, coming out to 0.35 cfm. I lasted 55 minutes on a low pressure steel 72 tank, which is pretty good, if I do say so myself. I’m looking forward to doing more underwater photography in the future – hopefully I’ll learn the tricks of the trade and come out with some cooler pics in the coming months.

Celebrating my 100th dive!

It’s official: last night, I did my 100th dive at the T-dock in Mukilteo. This is not a particularly overwhelming accomplishment, considering the fact that it took me a little less than ten years to accrue this much experience. A traumatic dive during my advanced open water course in the Florida Keys turned me off to the sport for many years (perhaps I will blog about this at a later date). In addition, paddling around in the carp-infested mud pits of Michigan and Ohio is completely underwhelming, and Great Lakes boat charters tend to be expensive, so I didn’t bother diving very often while I was living in Ann Arbor. However, there are definitely more opportunities for quality shore diving in Puget Sound, and I’ve been taking full advantage of it over the past year or so. The extra practice is paying off – I consider myself a much stronger diver than I was a year ago, and I am now quite comfortable going out in less than optimal environmental conditions.

I met up with three fellow Marker Buoys near the Mukilteo ferry terminal at dusk and proceeded to suit up in the rain. Things were pretty churned up in the 0-25′ depth interval, with 3-4′ of visibility at best. My buddy and I ended up getting separated from the other two people in our group at the beginning of the dive because of this, so we decided to go ahead and explore on our own. We descended to about 65′ and gradually zigzagged our way up the slope. Not a lot was out last night – there were the usual Dungeness and hermit crabs scampering about, but not much in the way of fish. I spotted a few shiner perch and tubesnouts in the shallows, but the deeper areas were pretty desolate. We only stayed down for around 30 minutes due to the fact that my buddy was diving in a wetsuit and was beginning to get cold.

Overall, it was not the epic milestone dive that I was hoping for, but it was another chance to get out and practice. I suppose I will have to start planning for a 200th dive somewhere in the Indo-Pacific or Costa Rica. Or perhaps the Galapagos? Considering how long it took me to gain this much experience, I will probably have plenty of time to plan and save up for my next grand adventure.

Another weekend dive at Edmonds

On the evening of June 30, Matt and I dove at Edmonds Underwater Park once again with three fellow members of the Marker Buoy Dive club. The visibility was extremely good, often exceeding 8 meters, and the tide was about a meter above mean high tide. After a long surface swim past the jetty, we descended at the first buoy and swam west along the trail.

Matt brought out the macro lens and was able to capture some good shots of the extensive fish and invertebrate life present on all of the structures. The usual enormous lingcod and cabezon were present, along with numerous painted greenlings, copper rockfish, and assorted sculpins that were too small and quick to identify with any certainty. Huge schools of tubesnout were hanging around some of the sunken small boats near the western edge of the park. Several varieties of nudibranchs were out and about, including clown, opalescent, and frosted. We also ran across couple of fist-sized sea lemons. Almost all of the Dungeness crab we encountered were still locked in the “mating embrace”.

Overall, it was an excellent dive. According to several veteran Puget Sound divers, it is unusual to see so little plankton present this time of year. A week later, the hot, sunny weather contributed to a substantial bloom and poor conditions during our subsequent dives at Keystone Jetty and Redondo. Now I understand why most divers look forward to winter here. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted…

Here are a few of Matt’s photos from the Edmond’s dive:


A clown nudibranch (Triopha catalinae) shows off its fluffy gills.


A graceful decorator crab (Oregonia gracilis) flees the scene.


A painted greening (Oxylebius pictus) tries to conceal itself in a clump of algae.


One of the dozens of fearsome lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) at Edmonds. Some individuals were in excess of 1.5 meters long.