Underwater Wakulla- November 20, 2014

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With 95% of the planet’s surface covered by water, how can students safely experience this underwater world and find inspiration to pursue a career there? For the past year, several of us have been offering glimpses of this world through a Tallahassee Community College Wakulla Environmental Institute (WEI) course called Introduction to Professional Diving. Yes, of course, the WEI is all about preparing students for aquatic jobs, but basic skills and inspiration are pre-requisites.

We began with weekly lectures opening as many black boxes about working underwater as possible. The basics included topics in oceanography (wind, waves and currents), physics (environment density), human physiology (cells under pressure), marine life (hazardous and otherwise), and the tools (Nitrox breathing mixtures, & management of decompression stress) needed to avoid the harmful effects of an aquatic existence. We offered skilling in buoyancy control in a three dimensional environment, trim with improved propulsion, and underwater sight. By adding stored breathing gasses, our intrepid students stayed underwater longer than ever before, at first with one cylinder on their back, then two, then one on each side, then gasses supplied from the surface. With each improvement came a realization that working in this alien world was not only possible, it was exciting! They began by building structures underwater, then surveyed creatures underwater, performed rescues and ultimately conducting work without sight.

Last week we finally introduced commercial diving, both in lecture discussing the nature of underwater employment as a diver, and in the pool, diving the hard hat called the Superlite 17. We were able to rebuild several surplus hard hats and a Dive Control Station (DCS) for surface supplied communications and gasses delivered through a 4-cable umbilical to the Superlite rigged divers underwater. Students rotated through the role of DCS manager, Tender, Diver and Standby such that by the end of the day, they experienced the full potential of the technology. Yes, they talked underwater to and from the surface, through 150 feet of umbilical.

Several days later they were conducting checkout dives off the St. Andrews Jetties in Panama City, part of the required exposure to the real underwater world, to become a certified diver. But the best is yet to come. This week, with the assistance of the Leon County Sheriff’s Dive Team, these same students will be asked to solve an underwater (sham) crime scene, using the tools they have been provided, and a new tool called the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Dr. Joerg Hess from Rebreather Solutions will discuss Underwater Criminology and the tools used by that discipline, before turning the pool over to the students to resolve their next challenge. FAMU’s Criminology Department is expected to participate since the (mock) crime scene is in their pool!

This exciting WEI course winds up with lectures on Closed Circuit Rebreathers and pool dives using the latest Rebreather technology (5 hour bottom time and no bubbles!). The final pool session is actually a visit to the Hyperbaric Chamber located at the Capital Regional Medical Center, under the direction of William Kepper, MD.

Every step of the way, students are exposed to employment opportunity, from a Dive Technologist, to Recreational Leader (AI, Dive Master & Instructor),to a Diving Scientist, to a Commercial Diver, to an Underwater Criminologist, to a Hyperbaric Specialist, just to name a few. Our motive is to inspire these students to seek a career underwater.

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