Having attended Dalhousie University after graduating from high school, the Canadian east coast is more than familiar territory. I’ve lived there for many years. I’ve formed lifelong friendships with fellow Nova Scotians. And I’ve roamed the vast coastline enjoying the tangy smell of the ocean with each and every breath. Halifax is a place that has left its mark on me.
Halifax is the capital city of Nova Scotia and one of the most populated places in the Canadian Maritimes. As such, more than two-fifths of the province’s population call this city home. At a latitude of 44° N, Halifax is nearly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. The region owes its existence largely to its location – on one of the largest and deepest ice-free natural harbours in the world. This, over time, has made Halifax one of the most important Canadian commercial ports on the Atlantic seaboard.
Today, Halifax and subsequently the HRM, still hold strong ties to its seafaring roots. It remains a busy port city, with several harbours as well as shared wharves, marinas, fishing docks and shipyards. It is Atlantic Canada’s leading financial, commercial and industrial center. HRM has also become a very cosmopolitan place. The region has a proud mixture of cultures, languages and ethnicities.
Being one of the oldest and largest cities in the maritime provinces (founded in 1749), HRM is an eclectic mix of old and new. It has many educational institutions, museums, pubs, historic buildings and fishing villages which are a picture-perfect delight for locals and tourists.
While not the first activity many tourists think of engaging in when they arrive in the HRM, scuba diving the lush water of Canada’s north Atlantic is a welcomed change from the status quo. Having an extensive coastline and being a peninsula primarily surrounded by ocean, anyone can guess that this area would have good cold water diving. I mean you can head anyplace inland and never be more than 67 kilometers from the coast.
Scuba Diving in Nova Scotia: Don’t let the cold water keep you from scuba diving. If you’re looking for wrecks, you will be sure to find them. If you are looking for interesting flora and fauna, the coastlines of eastern Canada have that as well. Find out where you can go scuba diving in Nova Scotia.
Terrence Bay is a rural fishing community on the Chebucto Peninsula fringing the western side of HRM. It is located on the shores of the Atlantic oceans 21.2 kilometers from Halifax off Route 333. The region encompasses the communities of Lower Prospect and Sandy Cove.
Dotted along Terrence Bay’s snaking shores are many dive sites rich in marine life. Some are easily accessible with close parking while others require a little more walking and equipment lugging.
* For informative purposes, shore scuba diving sites ranging from Bear Cove all the way to Prospect will be outlined in this article.
Prospect Bay Wharf is a large dive site with lots of places to explore. The wharf is located in a small inlet and therefore very sheltered from wind and wave action. The maximum depth of the site runs down to about 35ft at high tide. Divers can enter the water at the wooden stairs on the left of the wharf.
Prospect affords divers the opportunity to enjoy large kelp formations, rocky ledges and larger animals heading towards the gully. Heading in the opposite directions divers can poke around in the mud and silt, treasure hunting for old clay pipes discarded from the old historic ships that used to lay berths in this village.
Marine life consists largely of various crab species. Hermit, green and rock crabs can be found wandering the bottom, especially where it is flat. There are also lots of sponges and anemones clinging to the wharf pillars which make for a colourful and three-dimensional dive. In the sheltered areas where larger rocks are found lobsters, flounders, sea ravens and sculpins are abundant.
How to Find Prospect Bay Wharf and What to Look For
GPS Coordinates: 44.470383, -63.784006
Address: 12 Prospect Wharf Rd, Prospect, NS B3T 2B3
The parking area can fit cars close to the entry point. Boats are a site hazard – make sure to have a buoy.
It takes about 45 minutes from Halifax to get to the Sandy Cove dive site. Located south of the city, Sandy Cove is in the same geographical area as Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park, a well-known hangout spot for beachgoers in the summer months.
Sandy Cove is a small 75-meter strip of beach with ample roadside parking around a spacious cul-de-sac. The beach access makes for easy entry and exit from the water.
The bottom structure of the site itself stays true to the name and is mostly sand, however along the left and right-hand side of the dive site there is some cobblestone, boulders and bedrock ridges cloaked in seaweed. The depth of this site averages 40 feet, however further out the beach drops to as deep as 65 feet.
When looking for marine fauna at Sandy Cove, divers can usually find a sculpin or flounder hiding on the bottom or within the seaweed. Additionally, schools of pollock, cunner and other small fish often swim in this cove.
On the infrequent luck-of-the-draw occasion, divers may even glimpse a seal hauled out on the beach or lighthouse rocks napping.
How to Find Sandy Cove and What to Look For
GPS Coordinates: 44.462940, -63.708431
Address: Terence Bay Beach, 260 Sandy Cove Rd, Terence Bay, NS
Enter at the sandy beach. While a dive buoy is not necessary fishing boats can be a site hazard.
For the non-divers visiting Sandy Cove, this site has a short but scenic hiking path out to the tip of the bay. This trail is great for pictures and ends at a small red and white lighthouse.
Long Cove is another interesting dive site close to West Pennant. The site is nestled in a small community with several small beaches that step down into the ocean.
Long Cove opens to the southwest meaning this site is very protected from east and north winds. The bottom consists of sand that leads to soft mud quickly from the beach. The muddy portion of the site is rich in burrowing macro creatures but can make a real mess when disturbed. Some of the bottom dwellers include scallops, tube anemones, worms, flatfish and crab species.
The nicest region of the site is a section of boulders running down the middle of the cove. These offer animals and plants better hiding pockets. The boulders have kelp and rockweed growth with lots of interesting invertebrates.
The depth of Long Cove is roughly 9 meters deep (28 feet). It is also relevant to note that the head of the cove has a freshwater inflow, thus after rain, the top layer of water can be brownish with reduced visibility.
How to Find Long Cove and What to Look For
GPS Coordinates: 44.468110, -63.655355
Address: 32-10 W Pennant Rd, West Pennant, NS B3V 1M5
Parking is at the side of the road near a gate blocking off the developing housing community.
Bear Cove is a shore diving site cresting the outer limits of the Halifax Harbour. It is appealing due to its proximity to downtown Halifax but also because it offers divers the opportunity to explore portions of the U.S.M.S Humboldt wreck.
The site consists of a rocky beach approximately 30 meters (100 feet) wide which translates into the underwater landscape. Diving is done to the right of an oval boulder and flat rock closer to the beach entry path. The depth starts shallow 6 meters (20 feet) but drops off to 21 meters (70 feet) further out. There are a number of boulders and rock gullies peppered with kelp.
The points of interest at this site are found in two different areas approximately 7 meters (25 feet) apart. The first is known as the decking and the second is the ribs. All parts of the wreck are between Stone Rock (a large partially submerged rock at the entrance point) and Jane’s Point (the rocky point of land that borders the beach on the south).
How to Find Bear Cove and What to Look For
GPS Coordinates: 44.543206, -63.541785
Address: Bear Cove, Nova Scotia
This dive site approaches the Halifax Harbour – a dive flag and knife is recommended for fishing gear and passing boats.
Halifax Regional Municipality is a gem of a location on Canada’s east coast. After having lived there, worked there and enjoyed countless splashes in the North Atlantic, I can assure you there truly is no place like it. The metropolitan city offers visitors lots of things to occupy their time, while the coastal fishing communities cry of rustic charm.
In terms of scuba diving, this maritime spot has a really great collection of dive sites well suited for all levels of diver. Whether you’re diving directly in the city of Halifax, along picturesque St-Margarets Bay or amid the Terrence Bay seashores, prepare to be astonished and amazed by the bounty of marine life Nova Scotia has in store.
Diving in Nova Scotia can be pretty expensive if you need a guide and equipment rental.
For two divemaster lead shore dives the cost is $124.99 CAD. For two divemaster lead shore dives with equipment, the cost is $202.99 CAD. On these dives, the divemaster will generally highlight the area’s hazards, the points of interest and some of the wildlife you are expected to see.
If you are on a budget and have your own gear, many free shore diving sites around Halifax are accessible by car. These sites vary in difficulty but generally speaking is perfect for Advanced Open Water level divers.
Diving the cold water of the North Atlantic is possible all year round, and the perks depend on the time of year. In the wintertime, the visibility is absolutely stunning because of the frozen ground and lack of rain runoff. In the summer the sea’s become alive with fish and jellies. Sometimes in late August and September, the water even gets warm enough that divers can see some seahorses and triggerfish on shore dives.
No matter when you dive, a thick two-piece wetsuit (with 14 mm on the core) or drysuit is mandatory for ocean diving in this cold climate.
There is a lot to see in the waters off Halifax, Nova Scotia. The most significant restriction is finding a way to get to the shore dive sites. Some of the dive spots can be as far as 1.5 hours from downtown Halifax. Any shop you decide to dive or rent gear with will request to see your Open Water certification.
For being the capital city of Nova Scotia; Canada’s ocean playground, Halifax does not have very many dive shops to choose from. As a rule of thumb, most divers in the area tend to use Torpedo Rays Scuba Adventures as they are the biggest shop in the province and have two storefronts in Halifax and Dartmouth.
Have you ever been diving in Atlantic Canada – particularly in the Halifax Regional Municipality? What did you think of all the shore diving opportunities on the east coast?
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