Subtidal Science

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 subtidal 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 coring. 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 valid 2-day (16 hrs) First Aid + CPR-C course recognized in B.C. (This and PCOC are required for driving BMSC Copes), OR a valid Emergency First Response (EFR) including CPR-C certification (if you do not plan to drive BMSC Copes)
  • 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). If rescue certification was obtained within last 3 years (at course end date),  then this requirement is met.

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 (e.g., safety sausage)
  • 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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Check out the adventures of our 2018 Subtidal Science students!

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

Registration Details

University of Victoria
MRNE 419 – Subtidal Science
Credits – 1.5 units

University of British Columbia
MRNE 402 – Special Topics in Marine Biology
Credits – 3 units
Registered by your Department

Simon Fraser University
MASC 419/MASC 504 – Subtidal Science
Credits – 3 units
Registered by your Department

University of Alberta
MA SC 402 – Special Topics in Marine Biology
Credit – 3 units
Registered by your Department

University of Calgary
MRSC 501 – Special Topics in Marine Biology
Credits – 3 units
Registered by your Department