The Ups and Downs of Science Diving
I was on my way to go diving in Monterey recently. This was the third attempt to get in the water with my dive buddy. The first attempt was thwarted by a large swell. The second attempt I had to cancel due to a migraine. Checking conditions the day before, they had looked reasonable. I was feeling fine, the day looked promising. Thirty minutes into the early morning drive and I received a notification on my phone; “Tsunami Warning!”. The devastating eruption in Tonga had closed beaches and marinas all along the West Coast. I couldn’t believe it, we were skunked again.
So it goes. Science diving is often challenging on a good day. There are so many variables that can keep us from being successful. Weather and diving conditions, equipment issues, even a simple head cold can all disrupt our plans. I’ve been kept out of the water by earthquakes, hazardous marine life both big and small (shark activity and jellies), and a hose failure just as my students were entering the water. Sometimes I’m surprised we ever get our work done.
Four days after the Tsunami has come and gone, and I’m at our Gump Field Station on the island of Mo’orea, French Polynesia. I’m here to conduct checkout dives with a team of Swiss scientists. There are also teams from the California State University at Northridge and UC Santa Barbara, and a pair of researchers from UC Los Angeles. The teams are returning to conduct on-going monitoring dives as part of an NSF funded Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. It’s exciting to be in the midst of this hive of activity. This is one of the best parts of being a DSO, watching faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and undergrads all in various stages of their science diving career, eager to get out and collect their data. It’s time to get to work.
Except it’s been raining and windy for days. The bay is the color of café au lait. Water quality is an issue. The wind and swell make trips outside the lagoon impossible for at least a few days. Precious time is ticking by as researchers spend extra time setting up aquariums, prepping additional deployments, and otherwise trying to be productive while waiting for the weather to improve. Which it does. The wind drops, the rain ends (mostly) and researchers head out to survey their sites and begin their tasks.
And then a couple of boats break down. I’m out of the water for a few days with an ear infection. Some equipment issues arise. Eventually each obstacle will be dealt with in due course, and the dives will get done (mostly).
These are the ups and downs of science diving. We ride the waves literally and figuratively. Dives happen and dives get cancelled. Sometimes experiments work out, and sometimes we have to re-think our methods. Some days it’s a struggle to make any progress, and some days the data fits the hypothesis and it’s a joy to be in the water experiencing the amazing environments we get to occasionally call our office.
One of the other great high points for me most years is our annual Symposium and National Diving Safety Officer’s Meeting. This year’s Symposium, hosted by Moody Gardens in Galveston Texas, will be our first in-person meeting in two and a half years. Many DSOs work on their own for our various institutions and this opportunity to meet and speak with our colleagues from across the country and around the world is invaluable and invigorating. Please join us for this great training and networking opportunity where you can put faces to names, discuss common challenges, and hear about some of the great science our AAUS divers have conducted over the past few years.
I hope to see you there.
University of California