Scientific Diving involves an extensive toolbox, some that might be familiar to the technical, commercial, or recreational diver, and some that are completely unique to science underwater. One of the biggest challenges scientific divers run into is task loading. The scientific diver is operating life support equipment while monitoring time, depth, and decompression status as they complete the scientific tasks underwater. This can involve everything from running transect tape, laying line, working in quadrats, operating video and photo equipment, collecting, sampling, and recording all of this information accurately!
Proper education is a must and includes a minimum of 100 hrs of advanced training in areas such as physics, physiology, decompression, nitrox diving, navigation, site survey, collection, diver rescue techniques, CPR, 1st Aid, AED use, O2 Administration and more. After scientific diver authorization the training doesn’t stop – underwater researchers are always learning new techniques and increasing their efficiency underwater with the proper tools for the job. The following are a few of the tools we are using on the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition:
EMT Shears double as a required cutting device and a collection tool used for taking small clips of corals without remove more than what’s needed. “Whirl-pak” bags are used for storing specimens individually in salt water until they are preserved for future study, all the collections are then stored in a mesh collecting bag with a rigid opening and clipped to the diver with a double ended bolt snap.
Underwater notebooks are a great addition to a research divers toolkit, enabling date recording and communication without the limited space of a slate which must be erased after each use. Auxiliary pockets can be useful storing smaller items that the diver might not want to clip to one of the d-rings on the backplate/wing/harness configuration. Surface Marker Buoys (aka Safety Sausages) are a must for ocean diving, they can not only be a life saver if caught in a current or diving with heavy boat traffic, but can also be used for live-boating to identify the divers location. LED lights are useful during night dives and during the day to make up for lost light associated with depth – very helpful when searching for the next new species!
Lift bags are used carefully for bringing samples such as live-rock to the surface.
The hip-mounted canister light provides considerably more lumens than the standard dive light, and allows for hands free operation. These lights from Hollis Gear are 16 watts and provide up to 5 hours of burn time with a lithium battery. Also worn in this shot is a Datamask by Oceanic – this mask was designed for military use and provides the diver with a heads up display showing depth, dive time, decompression status, and tank pressure (via transmitter) all in the bottom right corner of the mask. This one is new for me. I have to say I was quite skeptical at first, but after testing the mask extensively I’ve found a new tool that definitely improves a scientific dive!
Underwater photo and video equipment can play a key role for the scientific research diver allowing them to document the worksite, specific species, and can even be used as shown leaving a weighted tripod at the bottom of the water column to record animal behavior without divers disturbing the habitat. Underwater housing and cameras can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands for production quality media. With recent improvements in dSLR technology a research diver can capture both high resolution photos as well as high definition video all with a single mid-range priced camera.
With 140 safe dives under our belt and 28 new species discovered, the first two weeks of 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition have been very successful for the shallow water team. Stay tuned for more posts from the rest of the team!
Diving Safety Officer
California Academy of Sciences