by Ticia Lee
As a first year in college, I was certainly not expecting to travel abroad by the end of my second semester. However, after attending informational sessions regarding programs that USC has to offer its students, I could not resist applying for this specific Problems Without Passports course.
The 2011 Guam and Palau Maymester program promises a journey untouchable to most undergraduate college students, as it gives its participants the opportunity to explore what are known as the top spots for coral reef sighting. As university students, we will have the chance to become certified scientific SCUBA divers and experts in conducting several underwater surveying techniques all while getting to know fellow Trojans. We will also investigate some of the environmental issues affecting the coral reefs of both Guam and Palau as well as examine the possible approaches for dealing with those issues.
My 23 classmates and I have passed through Friday afternoon lectures on SCUBA diving safety, First Aid, and NAUI SCUBA standards as well as two indoor pool sessions and three amazing weekends on USC’s very own Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island — all during this past semester. In lectures, we’ve learned some interesting things ranging from proper diving etiquette to the consequences of decompression sickness.
During our first weekend on Catalina, we practiced our basic underwater diving skills such as clearing our masks and handing our octopus regulator to a buddy in need. As the weekends progressed, our dive plans progressed as well. On our second weekend, our dive instructors rewarded our hard work and practice by allowing us to explore the waters of Big Fisherman’s Cove on our own. In dive buddy pairs, we swam to the opposite side of the cove, farthest from the dock, and descended below the ocean’s surface to find all sorts of creatures such as sea hares, baby sharks and all types of fish. Swimming alongside schools of fish and bottom-dwellers is such a wild experience. It’s like entering into a new world once you push aside those giant stalks of kelp. The third weekend consisted of navigational exercises and an introduction to scientific surveying underwater.
While diving, you learn your own tricks and get to bond with your diving buddy. My dive buddy and I always come out of the water with new stories to share. For example, communicating underwater can be challenging but at the same time, very amusing. Our diving instructors and professors always tell us to “solve our problems underwater.” This means coming up with as many hand motions as we can think of in order to understand each other’s concerns — whether it be figuring out calculations or even alerting your buddy if you see a gigantic bat ray sitting directly beneath them… It’s always a fun experience!
After a week of finals and USC Commencement, we are all reunited back on Catalina Island. We have a lot to look forward to this week including more practice with underwater surveying utilizing transect tapes and quadrats. This is our last time on Catalina before we fly off to Guam and Palau, which means only a few more days until we get to venture into the warm waters of the tropics!
Ticia Lee is currently a freshman at USC Dornsife and is studying environmental studies. She is a San Francisco, Calif. native and enjoys discovering the outdoors in her free time. Follow her on her first excursions as a certified scientific SCUBA diver.