Diving for Primitive Life…

Photo: Stephen Pearce

By Stephen Pearce

NASA? Astrobiology? British Columbia?

Believe it or not these all come together at beautiful Pavilion Lake in Marble Canyon Provincial Park – about a four-hour drive from Vancouver.

Pavilion Lake is one of the few places in the world that is home to colonies of microbialites; a rock or sedimentary deposit made of carbonate mud that is formed by microbes. It can occur regardless of sunlight and has been the subject of astrobiology research both NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. Some of the larger pillars in Pavilion Lake have been growing for thousands of years.

My dive buddy Zoltan and I had an opportunity to dive Pavilion Lake in early October. It is a protected environment and access for recreational divers is restricted to certain parts of the lake. Good buoyancy skills are a must and, of course, the microbialites are strictly hands-off.

We found microbialites of various shapes and sizes at a depth of 20 to 30 meters. Bottom times for both dives were 50-55 minutes. The structures were fascinating to look at and visibility was great.

We finished our day with an overnight at Cache Creek before heading home. You can also stay at Lillooet which is about the same distance from the lake.

There are no facilities at the site other than an interpretive sign. And because it is a freshwater dive at altitude some adjustments to your dive computer may be required. Its also a little chilly at depth (7C) so a dry suit is recommended.

In 2016 BC Parks BC Parks released a statement limiting scuba diving to three specific areas, to ensure conservation of the fragile and unique underwater features. A copy of the pdf is available here.

Its pretty cool to have a phenomenon like that in our backyard. Enjoy!


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