Conservation Awareness in the Dive Community

by Ben Chisholm

 Oceana divers 

Thousands of divers take to the world’s waters every year with different aspirations. Some want to relax, some want to escape, others to explore, and even others to dream. The beauty of our sport is this: diving offers unlimited rewards and pleasures to people from every background and profession imaginable. We all know what we enjoy the most; whether it is wrecks, sharks, deep dives, pristine shallow reefs… we connect with like-minded people and go. Creating communities that look out for one another, keeping each other up to date on issues, opportunities, dive stories, and dive news because we know it’s our passion.

In these communities, dive buddies become life long friends, local dive shops become as frequented and casual as local bars. Everyone shares the same sense of adventure, a drive to see the unseen, to explore a world that is known only by few, and a mystery to so many. And what is at the center of these communities, the one thing that relates all of us together…the ocean…the underwater world that many spend every vacation day of their life exploring. Without the ocean there is no sport, no colonies of coral reefs, no schools of hammerheads, and no magnificent dolphin or turtle encounters. Our livelihood depends on it and now it depends on us.

The condition of the world’s oceans is well known to us. We witness the decline of fish populations and the downward spiraling health of coral reefs with our own eyes. Where once were our favorite dive sites, now lie mediocre reef systems with sparse marine life. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find plush coral heads with flourishing, diverse marine life.

  Oculina Reef before bottom trawling 
   Oculina Reef after bottom trawling

As a diver and conservationist, this worries me. And it should worry any diver that has a passion for the ocean. It amazes me that with such a sense of community, divers haven’t focused more on conserving the ocean. This has captured the attention of Oceana, and inspired them to create a diver’s outreach program to help unify the divers and give them the opportunity to voice their concerns.

Oceana, a non-profit organization, campaigns to conserve, protect and restore the world’s oceans. Their teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers, and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals, and other sea life. And now they are reaching out to the millions of divers in the United States and around the world for support.

In the past couple of years, Oceana staff has attended dive shows and events around the country speaking with folks in the industry. The support they’ve encountered has been great and has encouraged Oceana to create a virtual dive community where members receive regular updates of current ocean
issues, activities, and action alerts for advocacy opportunities. With an open web forum, joining the dive community is a great way to keep in touch with dive buddies, express opinions on ocean related issues, and to get involved in protecting what we all know is so valuable, the ocean.

This new hands-on approach is being accompanied by an aggressive campaign to protect deep sea corals and other sensitive habitat off the Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oceana has been working with The South Atlantic and Gulf Fishery Management
Councils to implement plans to protect and restore these deep sea habitats by limiting the areas open to destructive bottom trawling; a fishing technique that plows the seafloor and destroys everything in its path.

One glance at a before and after shot of the affects of bottom trawling is enough to make most people concerned. To see an area covered with a thriving coral system that serves as habitat to hundreds of fish completely destroyed in a matter of seconds is chilling. Imagining the amount of habitat that is being destroyed everyday should motivate awareness of this very urgent issue. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is working on a proposed plan called the Fishery Ecosystem Plan. This plan has been in development for many years and Oceana is working to get the Council to approve and implement the plan. Action is needed before it is too late and ocean conservationists, divers, and fisherman alike suffer from the lack of fish habitat.

The goal is to get more divers into conservation that addresses these issues; this will benefit both divers and the ocean. However, another goal is to bring more conservationists into diving. Thousands of advocates of the sea have never explored the underwater world, but by partnering diving with conservation, they will have reason more than ever to go sign up for that first Open Water course. It’s a way of giving back to the dive industry by filling dive classrooms and charter boats with dedicated environmentally conscious people who have yet to get their feet wet. 

The Underwater Photographers Choice of Buddies

Lets Do This Dive Together, For a Change!

Videographer buddy modeling - Photo: Steve May
Videographer buddy modeling - Photo: Steve May

Now that you’ve taken up the idea of doing underwater photography, it’s time to think about buddy team dynamics for a minute. Up until now you and your buddy probably had similar interests, such as: “lets swim around the reef and see what’s there.” The nature of photography has a tendency to change the way you do the dive. Lots of folks swim around the reef in a semi-organize continuous sightseeing tour type of mode with their buddy. The photographer rarely is in continuous motion (unless it’s a drift dive with a fairly good current). The photographer stops to take pictures of critters, fish, sea fans, sponges, and parts of the wreck or even backs off far enough to take a picture of a big chunk of the wreck. If it’s an interesting subject, they may spend the entire dive glued to one spot! This stop and go nature of photography can make some dive buddies crazy. They frequently feel as if they are wasting “their” dive. In reality, some dive buddies stick with you and some don’t. Never mind the fact that you and your dive buddy should stay together for safety sake. That’s why they call it the “buddy system.” Lets look at a few buddies and why they might or might not get frustrated diving with a photographer.

If your buddy is a spearfisherman or lobster hunter, then the odds that you will be left alone to do your thing, while they do theirs, is pretty large. It’s not that they are evil people; it’s just that their goals don’t match your goals. Either they get short changed on their hunting or you get short changed on photo opportunities if you stay together. Something’s got to give. It would be nice if both of you agreed before the dive that you both would follow one goal or the other, but then one or the other feels sort of short changed at the end of the day. They didn’t get to do what they came out diving to enjoy. So, unless your taking pictures of spearfishing or lobstering, avoid these folks as dive buddies if you can.

If your buddy isn’t engaged in any particular activity, other than being your buddy, then they usually end up as the “bored safety diver.” Many wives/husbands of photographers fall into this category. These folks keep track of bottom time, air/gas consumption, and depth, while the photographer focuses on the photo shoot. The photographer obviously should keep track of these things for him/herself. But, keeping track of the “numbers” is about all this poor bored soul has to do, other than practice their Zen or buoyancy. The bored safety diver is related to the next buddy.

Photo: Steve May
Photo: Steve May

Some advanced photographers have a tendency to carry lots of photo gear underwater. Some pros carry half-a-dozen cameras with the help of paid assistants (if you’re getting paid, it’s not quite as boring). The relative of the bored safety diver is the “bored equipment carrier/sherpa. These people are slightly more engaged in the photo dive, but not much. Again, the wives or husbands of photographers frequently end up in this mode.

If your dive buddy is another photographer, you would expect bliss, but thus, is not always the case. If the photographers have similar lens and similar goals they can work well together in the give and take of alternating shots of the same or similar critters and alternating modeling for each other throughout the dive. A photographer and videographer frequently work well together because their goals frequently overlap to a great degree. An example of working together would be: You’re each swimming parallel on each side of some fish or animal without stressing it (don’t crowd it). She’s taking video of the subject and you, while you’re taking pictures of her taking video of you with the subject. You’re both shooting and modeling at the same time. It’s a beautiful thing when it comes together like that. The thing to watch out for with two photographers is a mismatch of gear or goals. He wants to shoot wide-angle out on the vertical wall, while she wants to shoot little-bitty critters on the sand flat; that’s a mismatch.

As you may have guessed by now, the secret to a happy photo dive for you AND your buddy is to have similar goals or to engage them in the photography and goals, as well as the dive and the dive plan, so they can enjoy the fun of the photo dive also. See if your buddy is interested in being your model for at least some of the shots. Talk through modeling hand signals that you want to use and the kinds of poses that you hope to utilize. Let them know about the kinds of photos you have in mind. As your photo assistant, have them do more than keep track of the bottom time or carry gear. Have them aim your slave strobe for you or hold a dive slate as a reflector to bounce light into the shadow side of your macro or close-up shot. Make them a part of the action. Have them be a part of the making of the photos, so it becomes “our” photo dive, not just yours. Your buddy can also be helpful as a critter finder. They can be that extra set of eyes looking for the little critter’s hiding spot. The more closely engaged the divers are in the activity of the dive, the more likely they are to stay together, and the more likely they are to both enjoy the dive.

Treatment of Decompression Illness

If DCI does happen, proper treatment is very important. First aid for DCI is immediate administration of 100% oxygen either through a demand mask that cover’s the patient’s face and delivers oxygen when the patient breathes. If the patient cannot tolerate a demand mask, a nonbreatheable, free-flow mask can be used with a flow rate set to 15 liters per minute. Masks should seal to the patients face so that maximum O2 is delivered to the patient. Air leaks in the mask will dilute the O2 percentage inspired. Do not use less than 100% oxygen as a way to prolong oxygen supply. Divers Alert Network (DAN) offers a variety of oxygen kits for the diving community as well as training in their use.

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Mixed Gas Training Frequently Asked Questions

Where can you get mixed gas training?

A number of training organizations offer different types and levels of mixed gas training. Training organizations such as, IANTD, GUE, NAUI, and TDI all offer mixed gas training. Finding a dive shop in your area with technical instructors may be difficult. Typically, only dive shops that categorize themselves as “technical” shops offer this type of training. You may have to travel out of your area to find a dive shop or instructor.

How much does mixed gas training cost?

Trimix courses range from $500 to $800+. Gas mixing technician or blender courses range from $150 to $200. Trimix courses assume that you have all of your gear, which means gear is not included in the course price. Check with your training agency and instructor for detailed costs and breakdowns.

How long does the training take to complete?

Trimix courses can take up to five days to complete. Many hours of classroom work as well as four to six dives must be completed. Each training organization has different requirements and time-to-complete can vary. Check with your training agency and instructor for a detailed time schedule for the class you are interested in taking.

Gas blender courses typically last two nights or maybe one full day. Again, each training organization has different requirements to complete the course. Check with your training agency and instructor for a detailed time schedule for the class you are interested in taking.

How long does the certification last?

Certification in mixed gas courses never expires. There is no yearly requirements or payments to keep your certification current. If you haven’t used mixed gas in a year or more, it’s recommended that you go through refresher training.

What do you learn in a mixed gas training course?

Entry level or beginning trimix courses provide the training required to competently and safely utilize breathing gasses containing helium for dives that require staged decompression, utilizing nitrox and/or oxygen mixtures during decompression to a maximum depth of 200 or 225 fsw (60 or 68 msw).

Advanced level courses provide the training required to competently and safely utilize breathing gasses containing helium for dives that require staged decompression, utilizing nitrox and/or oxygen mixtures during decompression to a maximum depth of 300 fsw (91 msw).

Mixing technician and gas blender courses provide you with the skills, procedures, and knowledge needed to safely handle high-pressure gases and prepare EAN and helium based gas mixes for use by divers. You learn how to prepare and blend high quality gas mixes. In addition, you may also learn the skills necessary to clean, test, and document the testing of equipment used with high levels of oxygen.