Madrona Point Nudibranchs

Monterey Sea Lemon (Doris montereyensis)
A pair of Monterey Sea Lemons (Doris montereyensis) meet in a bed of cup corals on the wall at Madrona Point.

On windy days like today when the Mud Bone is grounded, (our converted river boat doesn’t take too well to swells) we pick a shore dive like Madrona Point in Parksville for quick access to a host of sea life. I prefer to dive Madrona Point at high tide due to the slick entry point but if you have good balance in a tank and rubber boots it can be dove at high or low tides.

My partner and I gear up and clamber down the slippery rock shoot. After submerging we find ourselves in a bed of eelgrass, bull kelp and general weedy mayhem. This is the jungle of my ocean. I love to hang out in this stuff because it makes me feel like I’m diving in an aquarium. This is where schools of needlefish and perch swim and spindly little crabs hang onto swaying vegetation to feed on passing invertebrates.

Red Flabellina (Flabellina trophina)
A delicate looking Red Flabellina (Flabellina trophina) munches on a stick of sea grass.

Beautiful sunlight penetrates the shallow water near our entry point and makes me want to linger to make photos. If I stayed here at 10 feet, the deciding factor to end my dive would be from getting cold, not from lack of air (a tank of air can last hours in shallow water!) Alas, scuba diving is a buddy sport for safety reasons and it is hard to convince other divers to spend hours in shallow water, besides, we did come here to visit the wall, so using a compass bearing of 340, we head out over the sand towards it.

Just when I’m thinking I’ve missed the mark, the edge of the wall at Madrona Point begins to materialize out of the gloom. Today’s 15 foot visibility barely allows me to see my partner let alone a drop-off and I’m really hoping that the visibility will improve when I get deeper. It’s a common misconception to think diving is better in summer because of warmer temperatures; here on our coast warm temperatures bring ocean bloom that can be as thick as pea soup. I have been on dives where I could not see my gauges pressed to my mask until I dropped below the bloom at 30 feet and then it was dark.

Leopard Dorid (Diaulula sandiegensis)
A tiny version (approx 1 inch) of Leopard Dorid (Diaulula sandiegensis) munching on a kelp leaf.

I can always tell when I am nearing a reef or wall by the increase in the number of fish hanging around. This wall is no different and as my partner and I near it I begin to see lingcod, painted greenling and rockfish lying on the bottom. I swim out over the ledge and let the air out of my BCD (buoyancy compensator device) to “free fly” 40 feet to the bottom. During my decent I imagine I am Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. I slow my fall just before hitting the silty bottom and avoid stirring up a cloud of silt.

Nananimo Nudibranch (Acanthodoris hudsoni)
The bright yellow mantle adds a dainty frill to Nananimo Nudibranch (Acanthodoris hudsoni).

Happily, visibility improves at depth and I can see part of the wall is covered in orange cup corals and is inhabited by tiny crabs and nudibranch (pronounced nudibrank). The delightfully brilliant splash of eye-candy orange bouncing back from my flashlight beam is only seconded by the sheer quantity of creatures. I spy one of my favorite critters and zoom in on a nudibranch for a better look.

Nudibranch are found all over the world and come in sizes from as tiny as ¼ inch to over a foot long. They are the slugs of the sea and come in an astounding array of colors and shapes. This one is a couple inches long, bright lemon yellow, has bumpy skin and since I have been careful not to frighten it, it’s delicate fan of gills still extends from it’s rear. Their scientific name is Nudibranchia; which actually means “naked gills”.

Nudibranch Eggs
A lacy nest of nudibranch eggs is nestled among soft corals.

These little guys spend their day munching on sponge and grasses and are usually found at depths less than 100 feet. As hermaphrodites they are both male and female as required and after deciding who is who, their dainty egg sacs are laid in a spiraling ribbon that sort resembles a flower. A few such flowers punctuate this wall and I inspect them all for my viewing pleasure. As my dive time runs low I begin to ascend and come eye level with a stone ridge covered in an army of frilly shawlback nudibranch munching furiously on the vegetation. They look like fuzzy lollipops tossed over the edge of a passing boat embedded in the sea bottom.

When our waters are soupy and the light is low I look more closely for the small stuff and I have never yet been disappointed. There are larger creatures like octopus and wolf eel somewhere along this wall but today I am captivated by the microscopic.

Need to Know:

  • Shore Dive
  • Experience level – all divers
  • At the end of Madrona Drive is the parking lot with room for about four cars (see map below).
Map to Parking area at Madrona Point, Parksville, British Columbia
Map to Parking area at Madrona Point, Parksville, British Columbia

About the Contributor:

Lisa Graham of Seadance Photography is a freelance photographer who specializes in the underwater realm. Based in the Comox Valley you can visit her website at for her full portfolio.