Ice Diving: Over the Edge
During the winter months, the
Gulf of St. Lawrence surrounding Prince Edward Island freezes over with ice.
Strong winds and shifting tides stack large pieces of ice on top of each other
and form ice ridges, sometime 40 feet above sea level along the beach. The pack
ice is also forced downward to depths of 30 to 40 feet. As Spring approaches,
southwest winds drive the ice floes which are not grounded, out into the Gulf.
A band of ice, sometimes 1/2 mile wide is left behind bordering the shoreline.
The cold sea water is void of plankton and exceptionally clear.
This is the recipe for an adventure
for an experienced diver who wishes to do something a bit unusual (off the beaten
path). A walk carrying heavy diving gear to the edge of the ice pan is not something
one soon forgets. But neither is the pristine view one gets as they enter the
cool clear water.
At first glance there is not much
sealife to be seen at the edge of the pack ice. Lobsters, crabs and gunnelfish
can be found by searching under small rock and cobbles. Skate and flatfish can
be found in the open but are very sluggish due to the cold. They can be gently
picked up by hand and offer little resistance. A closer look at clouds of sediment
near the base of the ice reveal millions of tiny isopods called mysids. On the
pieces of ice itself are another type of isopods, Gammerus. These flea-like animals
feed on algae growing on the surface of the ice. The algae gives the ice a dirty
Divers scare the small animals
as they approach and they immediately swim for safety to the cover of seaweed
on the bottom.
Unlike ice diving in lakes and
rivers, the ceiling of ice is not flat. It is stacked in large pieces forming
underwater caves and passageways. And distinct from cave diving which occurs
in the dark, the side of the icecave are well lit. Exploration of the caverns
should only be done with the tendered rope and buddy system.
Note: This type of diving should
only be done by experienced ice divers with the proper equipment. Any diving
away from the mouth of the ice caves should be done with a rope and tender system.
It is very easy to get disorientated and to get lost under a canopy of ice is
Also, ice cakes are large and
heavy and have lots of inertia. A person could be easily crushed if one got caught
between them. Do not dive around moving ice floes!
Also carrying heavy diving and
camera equipment to the edge of the ice, require the person to be in good physical
condition. The divers should also be prepared should an emergency occur on the
trip to and from the site.
Description of Slides:
1. Diving at a Quarry Lake, Winnipeg,
Manitoba. Ice diving in lakes, ponds or quarries is carried out by cutting out
a hole in the ice. The ceiling of the ice underwater is usually as flat as the
surface. The divers use a buddy system and rope tender to ensure they do not
get lost under the ice.
2. Snorkeling at the edge of the
ice floe. Diver Neil McNair enjoys the clear cool water at the edge of the ice
3. Diver swims though a narrow
cave in the ice pack
4. Large pieces of ice pile up
on top of each other. This sometimes extends right to the bottom forming passageways
5. Diver Neil McNair swims under
the pack ice.
6. Surface: A diver suits up beside
a jagged pile of ice at the edge of the ice floe. After an exhausting walk out
over the ice field, the plunge into the cool water can be quite refreshing.
7. Surface: Divers with dog stand
on an ice cake.
8. Surface: Face of "Icicle" diver,
Neil McNair after a fun filled dive on a very cold day.
9. Surface: Very tired divers
after a diving trek in a snowstorm at Cavendish beach, P.E.I. A group of international
divers: Rui Santos from Portugal, Bob Semple, Lawrence and Judy McCook from Australia
and Raul Ugarte from Chile.