by Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
On Saturday a group of four student scuba divers and I visited the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island to continue our scientific diver training. The purpose of our trip was to practice the use of surface marker buoys (SMB), as well as conduct several fish and invertebrate transect assessments with the marine reserve.
Our first dive of the day proved difficult. With less than 10 feet of visibility, our dive group had a difficult time sticking together underwater. After two unsuccessful attempts, I was (finally!) able clear my ears and we all convened ~40 feet below the surface for a SMB lesson. Each of us practiced filling the buoy with a bit of air, guiding it to the surface to be used as a marker, and reeling it back in. SMBs are useful for marking areas for short-term reference, and, as a safety tool for notifying people on the surface that divers are present.
Our second dive occurred in a kelp forest inside the marine protected area in which we quantified the number of fish and invertebrates along a 50 meter transect tape. Working amongst two dive teams, we completed the task and identified nearly all of the species on our list. Afterward, we swam through the forest enjoying the overwhelming abundance of marine activity. In fact, while swimming through a clearing in the kelp, we encountered a five-foot Soupfin shark (see www.montereybayaquarium.org for details), which swam directly over my dive buddy’s head!
Even with getting a little lost in the poor visibility, having difficulty clearing my ears, and seeing what many people might consider a dangerous marine organism, it was a great dive! Most importantly, all of these “scenarios” provided great practice in staying calm and solving problems that may arise underwater. These skills are vital components to having fun and successful dives, as we learned today. I can’t wait to get to Micronesia to put all of our newfound knowledge to work!