WE ALL AGREE that it is one of the quintessential underwater experiences, but one that few British divers actually get round to trying for themselves – diving in a giant kelp forest.
I’d put it solidly in my top five, along with the adrenaline rush of coming face to face with a great white shark, feeling flabbergasted by the weird and wonderful critters on a muck-dive, being mesmerised by the rich reefs of Raja Ampat and playing with lively seals or sea-lions.
In fact one of these experiences (sea-lions) is pretty common on kelp-forest dives and another (white shark) is theoretically possible, but best not thought about!
The inimitable Trevor Norton calls giant kelp “super-seaweed” and eulogises the diving experience: “The best way to be overwhelmed under water is to sink lazily into the tall forests of giant kelp. You can glide beneath the luxuriance of the fronds, slide between the stems and hide among the shadows below.”
What I love is that the dive-site and the photography starts immediately at the back-platform of the boat.
Giant kelp grows right to the surface and the skippers usually anchor the boat so that the dive-deck nestles up against the forest. You literarily step off the boat and are right in the dive-site until you resurface.
Giant kelp is a wonder of nature capable of growing up to 60cm per day and growing to 80m in length. It favours cooler, nutrient-rich waters and is found in southern New Zealand, Tasmania and South Africa, Tristan da Cunha, the Falklands and other sub-Antarctic islands, extensively in Argentina and Peru and, most famously, on the Pacific coast of North America.
For photographers the zenith is probably California’s off-shore Channel Islands, where clearer waters provide the chance to capture its full splendour.
While California is a very popular holiday destination for Brits, few remember that it is a dive-destination too. Particular for those who are photographers, this is a big mistake!