Back in the Water!

Now that I’m back (at least temporarily) in the Vancouver area, I absolutely had to get back in the water, and what better place to do it than at Whytecliff Park!

Whytecliff park on a summer day

Whytecliff park is a very well-known dive site in the greater Vancouver area. In fact, if you’ve learned how to dive in this area, chances are you did at least one of your first open water dives here. It’s very accessible, and it has a wide range of different dive options; you can keep it nice and shallow in the bay, or you can challenge yourself with a tech dive by going to the right and following the wall down to a depth of your choosing. If you’re a critter diver (like me!) there are some excellent opportunities to see some really neat species down at the plumose anemone (Metridium spp.) garden at about 50 feet on the right hand side of the bay, just down from the day marker.

One thing I really noticed during my dives on Tuesday was just how many rockfish (Sebastes spp.) there were; most of them were hanging out at the garden, but we spotted a couple on our descent through the bay as well! I love seeing this kind of fish (especially in such numbers, and some of them were quite large!) not just because they have some beautiful markings, but also because they’ve been hit hard by over fishing, and it’s good to see that the different species are still hanging in there!

Rockfish were over fished for a variety of reasons, but the two of the three main reasons were that they are absolutely delicious, and they can be a fairly predictable fish, which makes them easier to catch. As the name suggests, they like to hang out near piles of rock. So, if you want to catch one, just zoom out to a rocky reef and drop your line.

The third main reason these guys were over fished has to do with their life history. They’re typically a very long-lived fish (scientists have demonstrated that some of the larger species will live to be nearly 200 years old!), and unlike humans, female rockfish become much more reproductive as they get older. The individuals that make the biggest reproductive contributions to the overall populations are typically old, fat females with a well-established territory over a rocky reef…exactly the type of fish that your average fisherperson is keen to catch.

So why are there so many rockfish at Whytecliff? Aside from the fact that it has excellent underwater geography (a rocky reef with some good currents to bring in all kinds of tasty rockfish food), Whytecliff park is also a marine reserve: there is no fishing allowed within park boundaries. Although marine reserves are not always the best conservation tools, they are potentially a very good method of looking after a species like rockfish (long-lived, fairly stationary) because they provide a shelter where fish can grow into those big fat females I mentioned earlier, and therefore have tons of babies that (hopefully!) spread out and populate other areas with less protection.

It will still take some years before we can known for sure if places like Whytecliff park are having a positive effect on overall rockfish populations, but when you’re trying to preserve such long-lived species, it’s very important that we take the long view, and give the populations the time they need to recover. In the meantime, I plan on visiting Whytecliff a LOT more in the future…but it’s going to have to wait until December, because I’m about to head to Bali for 40 days!

That’s right! This Saturday I take off for sun, sand, and SCUBA! I’ll be doing a divemaster internship with Bali SCUBA, and I’ll be blogging about it as I work my way through the course. So stay-tuned for jealousy-inducing stories (and hopefully pictures! I bought my first ever underwater camera for the trip) in the coming weeks!

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