Underwater Wakulla- December 10, 2015


University Dive Officers are tasked to assure their scientists that conduct research underwater be adequately trained, or suffer the consequence of elevated participant frustration and unwanted injury. Better training is the answer, but that comes at a cost. Where do we start?
How do we train a science diver? Slowly, as there are no fast track options!
First you start with a scientist. Scientists are data collectors. Scientists usually take many years of formal study in a wide range of topics to become a specialist. Along the way a scientist (or a scientist in training) can train in supporting topics such as computers, electron microscopy, boating, driving a car, or diving. These technical fields are called supporting because they complement the scientists primary task of data collection.
Starting this endeavor with a diver is fraught with challenges. We have found it is much easier to train a scientist to dive than a diver to become a scientist. Most diving in this country is first taught as a recreational course, usually at a dive shop dedicated to selling equipment, little skill or knowledge required. These recreational classes are short, as little as 2-3 days, and portions often taught online. Major topics are designated as black boxes – which is to say, trust me and just do as the teacher says, there is no reason to know why. With so little time dedicated to pool and open water, very poor skills get imbedded into the divers skill set.
The scientist who conducts research underwater is not performing a recreational activity. When you play and adversity presents unwanted challenges, the participant quits and goes home. A scientist collecting data is much less willing to quit because (s)he will lose data when abandoning the site.
I have found over the course of five decades working with science diver training, that there are four areas needed to build the science diver. First, be on track towards a formal education in field of science. Second, get a through advanced compressed gas diver training. We used to teach a 16 week Introduction to Professional Diving at TCC, where the graduate could easily hover in mid water, navigate blindly, understand decompression and use mixed gasses, just to name a few skills/knowledge. Third, become experienced in underwater research techniques, such as data collections (like UW photography), survey (like ROV or Side Scan sonar) and preservation (like specimen catalogs or sonds recordings) techniques, and meet the American Academy of Underwater Sciences 100 hour course requirements (UW First aid, CPR, use of Oxygen, Rescue, and more). Every year Texas A&M’s Dr. Iliffe, brings up to 35 students through our area, completing their preliminary science diver training course. And Fourth, Project Management, where students plan and conduct underwater pilot research projects of their own design, and with the assistance of their peers.
The Scientist-In-The-Sea Program, planned for next summer at Texas A&M, is a full time, in-residence, 10 hour a day, semester series of courses that begins with selected graduates of advanced basic training. The program culminates in a series of saturation diving, student directed, underwater research projects.
Fifteen years ago, FSU was the leader in this field of science diving, training and servicing up to 500 people a year. Texas A&M University leads today, with a Department of Aquanautics.
Exciting times.


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