Diving in kelp is a spectacular experience, likened to diving among the towering trees of a forest. You’ll often find kelp forests in colder and temperate waters, featuring nutrient-rich waters, shallow bottoms and sunlight. This combination allows these giant stalks of algae to flourish. The Pacific coast of the Americas is famous for giant kelp forests, home to some of the most charismatic marine species in the world. Individual strands of kelp can reach as high as 130 feet (40 m) Kelp is not only prevalent in the Pacific, but in other locations as well. These marine environments dot the planet’s oceans — here are our picks for the world’s best kelp dives.
Several of the world’s most famous kelp dives line the California coast. These include Catalina Island, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay. Water can be as cold as 42 F (5 C), allowing the kelp to reach 130 feet (40 m) in some locations. Apart from stunning photography opportunities, divers can see Pacific harbor seals, black sea bass and sea otters. The Garibaldi fish and a plethora of colorful sea stars and anemones round out the dives.
The emerald seas of British Columbia boast one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, thanks largely to the area’s kelp forests. Giant pacific octopus, wolf eels and gargantuan colorful plumose anemones are just a few of the unique species that inhabit the waters off Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Bull kelp flourishes along the coast, providing habitat for lots of marine life including crabs, abalone, sea urchins and occasional sea otters. The kelp here can be extremely thick, so watch where you swim and always dive with a buddy.
Departing from the coastal town of Ilfracombe, a short distance from Bristol, Lundy Island is a small gem. Here, shallow laminarian kelp forests flutter in the current between intertidal rocks. Visibility can be as much as 60 feet (20 m) on good days, when you might see grey seals shoot between the strands at dive sites like Gannet’s Cove. You’ll often see lobsters and crab in this nutrient-rich area as well. Because of rough water and poor visibility during the winter, diving is only possible from April to October.
Although 90 percent of nearby Tasmania’s famous kelp forests have died off due to ocean warming over recent years, New Zealand’s Poor Knights Islands have remained a perennial favorite for kelp enthusiasts. Gardens, walls and carpets of green and red algae fill the waters here. Additionally, you’ll find an abundance of temperate marine life and tropical species that migrate through the warm-water currents.
During the summer (mid-October to mid-February), the starkly beautiful coast off the western cape of South Africa reveals tide pools and shallow offshore sites filled with thick kelp forests. Here you can find the spotted gully shark, also called the sharptooth houndshark, as well as the pyjama shark. Both small, yet striking, species congregate here in search of octopus and other prey. Larger species such as the sevengill cow shark and curious sea lions also cruise in the cold, clear water.