We’ve got advice on how to navigate through a kelp forest
Some of the world’s best diving can be found in kelp forests, but this can be an intimidating environment, especially the first time. Here are our tips for enjoying this spectacular habitat and its many rewards.
1) Don't step off the boat into kelp. Reposition the boat (or wait until it swings away from the kelp) so you can step off into clear water.
2) Look down before you descend. Sometimes kelp does not reach the surface. The water can look clear from the boat, but there may be a mass of kelp 10 feet below, and you may need to swim horizontally until you can descend in clear water. Descend vertically. You have less chance of snagging kelp if your body is vertical in the water. Find natural openings. Natural gaps can occur. When you get below the canopy, start looking for an opening in the kelp wall that's big enough for easy entry.
3) Be sure you are neutrally buoyant. In the kelp you will need to be able to maintain your altitude without finning. You should be trimmed so you're horizontal, too. You will occasionally swim through an especially small hole, and if you drag your fins, they will catch kelp.
4) Put your hands together in front of you, palms outward. Make one fin kick, then glide into the kelp. As you pass through the opening, sweep the kelp aside and behind you, as if you were walking through a bead curtain.
Keep your fins together and stationary, with your legs fully extended behind you, until you have passed into a clearing. If you need to kick again, make small ones with your ankles only. It's not just a matter of not kicking the kelp. Finning hard stirs the water the kelp is floating in and can actually suck the kelp toward your fin. One more consideration: Does this opening go anywhere? You're a lot like an 18-wheeler going down an alley without the option of backing up: You shouldn't enter unless you can see ahead of you that there's a clearing large enough to turn around in, or an exit as big as your entrance. Turning around in kelp requires a bigger clear space than you might think, because your fins sweep a large area. One method of turning around is first to get your fins underneath you by bringing your knees to your chest.
5) You and your buddy will need to swim single-file. That fact makes it easy for buddies to get separated from each other in kelp. The leading buddy should go slowly. Watch your air supply. The canopy is an overhead environment, though it can be penetrated in an emergency. Because you can't expect to swim side-by-side in kelp, air sharing with a buddy is difficult.
What happens if you get tangled up in kelp? For more, including how to deal with surge, what gear you should wear and facts about the kelp forest’s marine-life inhabitants, click here.