Four Fathom Reef

Date Reviewed:September 2001
Location:Snake Island
Access:Boat dive
Site Description:Expansive rocky reef
Main Attraction:Tiger Rockfish, Swimming Scallops, Wolf-eel

Four Fathom Reef is a wonderful dive site located near Neck Point just north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. In fact, I would have to say this site makes my top 10 list for cold water boat dives. Located a half mile off-shore, you need to contact a charter to get here, unless you have your own boat or are related to Mark Spitz and have a GPS unit built into your brain. If you are looking for a good charter, contact Roberta with Ocean Explorers, out of Nanaimo. Ian, the owner and dive master, runs two small boats and knows the area very well. He operates a good charter.

Anyway, according to Ian, Four Fathom Reef spans about five acres and is seldom dove. The reef itself is situated on a flat bottom at 70 fsw. The reef is horse-shoe shaped, and runs from 70 fsw to 30 fsw. The reef consists of a rocky mound that is full of holes, cracks, small ledges, and crevices, and is covered in kelp leaves. The reef structure is somewhat impressive in its own right, but is definitely not the main attraction here. When we dove here in September 2001, there was a plankton bloom and vis above 35 fsw was dismal (3 to 10 feet). However below 35 fsw, the vis opened up to about 40 feet. I would also recommend diving this on a nice, calm day. The reef appears to be in somewhat exposed waters, and could be very susceptible to any substantial winds.

When descending on the reef, two things struck me as highly unusual and very cool. First, huge numbers of Quillback Rockfish are hovering motionless EVERYWHERE. None of them are very big - I would say 10 to 16 inches long. However, their shear abundance is impressive. Second, there are thousands, and I mean thousand, of yellow swimming scallops at this site, all over the bottom. When you get close to them, a number of them will swim away by pumping water through their shell. I have never seen anything quite like it.

However, this site offers more than swimming scallops and Quillback Rockfish. When we dove here, we saw more Tiger Rockfish than we had ever seen at any site. I stopped counting at 10, and most of them were rather large. The Tigers were very solitary, and very territorial with other fish. In addition to the Tigers, there were also abundant numbers of Copper Rockfish, Kelp Greenling, Painted Greenling, and Lingcod. I even found a five foot female Wolf-Eel out cruising along the reef. And of course, a number of nudibranch species dot the reef if you look for them (including the Nanaimo Nudibranch). Ian stated there are a number of octopus at this site, but with all the cover we did not see any. I would guess that this site would make for an awesome night dive. If you are into marine life, this is a very cool site.

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