By Alisha Postma
After hundreds of dives all around the world, it’s always nice to come home and dive in Canada.
When it comes to dive-focused destinations, Canada is definitely not at the top of anyone’s list. But having 202,080 kilometers of pretty untouched coastline, Canada offers some of the most pristine marine environments in the world.
My familiar diving turf is Canada’s east coast – specifically good old Nova Scotia. The north Atlantic ocean has left me with a love of underwater nature like never before. From beautiful wrecks peppering the coastline to tidal whirlpools that could make many-a-diver sweat in their drysuit, the moment you put your mask on in this neck of the woods you are diving into a dark and magical world.
For those who are new to diving in Nova Scotia, or for those who just want to check out some of the local marine fauna, here are some typical critters you will spot while scuba diving:
Crab: Watch a crab on the bottom of the ocean and you will see the hustle and bustle of a scavenger’s life. Crabs can be found all over the world; in oceans, freshwater and even on land. In Nova Scotia crabs come in many different shapes, sizes and colours. When diving keep your eyes open for snow, rock, hermit and green crabs walking along the seabed.
Snails: Trick question; what has a foot but no legs? SNAILS! The most common trait of any snail is the spiral shell they lug around on their back, but what I find amazing is their muscular foot which they use to get around. Snails can be found all over the world, both on land and in the water. It’s not a question of if, but rather a question of when you will have a run in with a snail. If you are diving in the north Atlantic, be ready for “snail central” because the ocean is full of them. From the edible and dainty looking periwinkles to the massive carnivorous moon snails, these ooey gooey invertebrates are sure to capture your fascination.
Lobster: Lobsters are perhaps one of the most iconic animals of the maritime provinces, and common to see as a local diver. These beady-eyed invertebrates are part of the phylum Arthropoda, which means they are closely related to insects. As they grow lobsters cast off and replace their outer exoskeleton in order to grow. There are many different species of lobsters – the ones that are found off Nova Scotia is called the American lobster.
Barnacles: I find it absolutely adorable how something so small and seemingly insignificant can be so busy. Get up close and personal with a barnacle and you will see what I mean. Surprisingly, barnacles, like lobsters, are part of the Arthropoda phylum. They are found exclusively in marine environments and anchor themselves in a single location for life. Anytime I ever check out some encrusting barnacles during a dive, they always seem to be busy waving feathery like appendages in the water in an attempt to suspension feed.
Tunicates: Tunicates are also known as sea squirts. These sessile (non-moving) animals, draw and pump water throughout their bodies, filtering out food. Almost all species of tunicates are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female parts. On the east coast, tunicates come in a few notable colours such as orange and brown. The vase tunicate seen in the photo (left) is actually an invasive species present in Nova Scotia.
Sea Urchins: Probably the pointiest critters you will find during your dive, sea urchins look like a round ball covered in prickly spines. While diving keep your eyes open for green and purple urchins that can be found in shallow and deep water feasting on algae, kelp and other species of seaweeds.
Anemones: Makes friends not “anemones” with these beautiful looking animals. As much as anemones may look like a plant, they are in fact an animal closely related to jellyfish. Anemones come in many different colours, and just like jellyfish anemones have stinging cells in their tentacles which they use to hunt for food like plankton and small fish. Off the coast of Nova Scotia spotting an anemone is like spotting a burst of colour in a relatively grayscale ocean. They come in shades of greens, pinks and reds! Check out these northern red and plumose anemones.
Sea Stars: Sea stars are arguably one of the most well known animals of the ocean. Unlike their commonly associated name “starfish”, sea star are not in fact “fish” but rather an invertebrate closely related to urchins and sand dollars. To move around, sea stars have tons of tiny little legs called tub feet on the underside of their body which act as suction cups to stick and unstick their way around the ocean floor. On the east coast of Canada, the typical sea star species are: Purple sea stars , Blood stars, Brittle stars, and Sun stars.
Nudibranchs: Don’t be fooled by these shell-less animals, they couldn’t be more different from their snail like counterparts. Nudibranchs are part of the sea slug family and their name essentially means “naked gills”. In my opinion, nudibranchs are probably one of the most colourful things you will feast your eyes on off the coast of Nova Scotia. These guys, absorb the pigmentation from their food, which in our case is pink and red hydroids. Nudibranchs are hard to find in Nova Scotia, but if you take a close look on the kelp and rocks you might get lucky and find one.
Sculpin and Sea Ravens: There are some fish that are so ugly, I consider them cute, and sculpin and sea ravens are at the top of that list. While nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to finding wild animals, I would be very surprised if you went for a shore dive off the coast of Nova Scotia and didn’t spot a sea raven or sculpin. These grumpy looking fish are everywhere and come in many different colours. I love hunting out the smaller sculpin in the shallows – they tend to be the ones with the most colour on their bodies.
Flatfish: Flounder, halibut and plaice are called flat fish because of their very distinctive flat-as-a-pancake bodies. These bottom dwellers can often be found lounging about in sandy or muddy substrate, watching and waiting for the opportune time to catch their next meal. Because of their very interesting body composition and coloration which blends in with the bottom of the ocean, these flatfish are the kings of camouflage and can sometimes be tricky for divers to spot. Take a look at how well this little guy blends in with his surroundings!
Sand Lance: They’re small, they’re fast and they love to bury themselves in the sand… Sand lance stay true to their name by spending their days darting in and out of the sand. Sand lance’s have long slender bodies and a pointed snouts making them very agile underwater. They are a favorite food to larger pelagic fish as well as sea birds like puffins and cormorants. Shore divers in Nova Scotia can find these guys hanging out in the shallows and will recognize them by their silvery body and ability to hide out under the sand.
Large Pelagic Fishy Friends: What I love about ocean diving is that you can head underwater in the same location for days and have a different dive every time. There are many pelagic fish species found off of Nova Scotia and as scuba divers you never know which ones are going to circle in close to shore for you to see.
From staring down a 300 lb sand tiger shark to currently being a certified PADI divemaster, Alisha Postma’s resume is jam packed with extreme water hobbies. A scuba diver, photographer and ocean activist with a background in marine biology, Alisha loves being underwater and the only thing she’s missing is a tail. Alisha and her husband Joey are plunging into as many strange and exotic waters as possible and share their adventures on their scuba diving blog. Together they hope to promote ocean conservation and help the world understand what a beautiful place the aquatic realm can be. Connect with Alisha and Joey from Dive Buddies 4 Life on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram.