Subtidal Science (formerly Scientific Diving)

Instructors: Dr. Isabelle Côté, Siobhan Gray

Overview: British Columbia’s marine ecosystems are rich in diversity and offer exciting opportunities for research. Yet the challenge of accessing this system is significant, and presents a barrier to many wishing to study it. This course is designed as an introduction to the techniques and practical aspects of performing research underwater using SCUBA. The intensive practical component will give students the opportunity to try a diversity of sub-tidal research techniques. Students will also deal with the logistical challenges associated with managing a subtidal research project. Lectures will provide theoretical background for the field techniques to be practiced, including designing effective surveys, dealing with logistics and safety and analyzing data.

Research Skills: Marine life identification, underwater research techniques including transects, point counts and quadrats for assessing fish and invertebrate abundance, biodiversity surveys, fish sizing and mapping. Dive planning, team leadership, equipment management, hazard assessments and troubleshooting.  How to conduct an underwater research project, from initial design to analysis and final presentation. By the end of the course, successful students will have achieved their Canadian Association of Underwater Science level 1 diver qualification, which will allow them to dive for research with any other CAUS and AAUS member organization.

Prerequisites:  This course is intended for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students with an interest in subtidal ecology. A background in ecology and basic statistics is expected. As the focus of the course is on research techniques rather than learning to dive, participants are expected to have Rescue Diver qualification at minimum, and should have logged AT LEAST 12 dives in the past year. Students must read the BMSC diver requirements (see BMSC’s SCUBA diving pages and are responsible for ensuring that all prerequisites (including copies of the following) are included in their application:

  • a current first aid certificate
  • Rescue Diver certification
  • copy of last 2 pages of log book
  • diver clearance form
  • diving waiver
  • equipment checklist and annual regulator service receipts
  • current BMSC Dive Medical Examination Form (available upon course acceptance, March 15) signed by a WorkSafe-approved physician with knowledge in diving
  • Current emergency oxygen provider certification (e.g. DAN Emergency Oxygen for SCUBA Diving injuries course, or PADI Emergency Oxygen Provider specialty, or PADI Rescue Diver course, obtained in the last two years.

Students must have a full set of cold-water dive gear (see list below). Students will be expected to study dive theory, using materials sent before the course starts, to pass the Canadian Association of Underwater Sciences and BMSC dive exams in the first few days of the course.

Boat Use: There will be no opportunity for students to drive boats during Scientific Diving. Boat driving is not recommended for this course. Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and will participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.

Physical Requirements: This course is physically demanding.  Students have to be able to carry their own tanks and weights, as well as other equipment needed for research. All divers will be required to pass the BMSC dive skills and rescue checkouts at the start of the course, prior to commencing scientific diving training.


  • Mask, snorkel, fins
  • Dry suit
  • Hood, boots, gloves
  • Weight system
  • Buoyancy compensator with low pressure inflator
  • Regulator
  • Alternate air source
  • Submersible pressure gauge
  • Underwater compass
  • Bottom timer (i.e. dive watch)
  • Primary dive light
  • Back-up dive light
  • Dive knife
  • 2 emergency signal devices – one audible, one visual
  • A small bag to keep personal gear organized on boats (a large mesh goody bag would suffice)
  • Logbook


  • Tanks and DCIEM tables will be provided
  • BMSC will provide full-size underwater slates for use during the course
  • BMSC will provide a scientific diving logbook



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I noticed that the BMSC Summer 2018 schedule is up and that scientific diving is on it! The course was such a life-changing experience for me. I just wanted to reach out and wish you safe bubbles with the next batch of divers that you’ll be teaching and inspiring. I hope the weather is just as great for them as it was for us!”  –Faye Manning, Scientific Diving Alumna