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Diving Under the Dock of the Bay

Words and Photography by Tiare Boyes 

Photo: Tirare Boyes

Docks are easily overlooked historical markers, reflecting the individual communities that have used them. They have provided an essential link between land and sea, as well as shelter for mariners. Docks also have provided an important place for social connection between isolated neighbours. Some old docks have disappeared or fallen into disrepair, but if you look closely, you can see where they once stood, from rusty iron fastenings in rocks, to discarded containers on the ocean floor.

Under some docks on the BC coast, divers find mostly beer bottles, decades old, marking a place where fishermen and loggers came and went, or gathered to spend hard-earned wages. Under other docks are Vietnamese and Chinese crockery, marking places where fishermen tied up during fishing seasons or where communities once were rooted. On my dives I have found more than a few old porcelain Wade miniatures, produced and distributed by Red Rose Tea in their boxes since 1967, as well as many delicate glass medicine vessels, hardy canning jars, and broken ceramic mugs.

I think today we all agree there are better ways to dispose of your bottles than chucking them in the ocean, especially if they are made of plastic, but the glass bottles and crockery left by past generations have taken on a new life in their marine environment. Each glass bottle has become a tiny artificial reef, providing substrate for encrusting life, such as the vibrant purple coralline algae, colourful bryozoans, tunicates, barnacles and many species of sponges. Often plumose anemones find their footing on bottles and I have seen bivalves grow inside with their siphons extended through the openings. I have seen pygmy rock crabs, who usually set up home in abandoned giant acorn barnacles, peek out of bottle necks and it is not uncommon to see juvenile giant pacific octopus, Pacific red octopus, or the adorable stubby squid folding their boneless bodies into impossibly small openings. Of course, my favourite inhabitants of these tiny homes are the mosshead warbonnets (above). Sticking their elaborately cirri decorated heads out of the bottles, their (usually) red coloring, elongated patterned bodies, and prominent nostrils remind me of tiny Chinese dragons.

The west coast has many histories and many stories; some are beautiful, and some are tragic. Sometimes these stories are written in journals, and some have been passed through oral histories or recorded in photographs; but all of them are represented in the debris left by those who lived here. While I encourage all divers to do their part to limit their use of single use plastics and to clean up our ocean by collecting garbage, I’d also like to suggest we leave some of the tiny artificial glass and ceramic reefs to their new users, the marine life who have upcycled our bottles into tiny underwater homes. 

Taken with Cannon G15 in Fantasea housing using Sea and Sea YS01 strobe, and a Light and Motion 800 focus light. 1/125, ISO 150, f 2.8.

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