Two dives, thousands of miles apart, in one afternoon

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Posted by Jusfer on December 22, 1999 at 21:29:38:

No kidding. The first one around Catalina Island, SoCal. Mainly surrounded by yellowtail jacks, kelp bass and barracudas. The second one a wall dive in Palau. Clouds of reef fish around me, an occasional zebra shark, a three-foot grouper, just to name a few.

The location of this dream: Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. My first dive day as a dive volunteer. Behind me lie 4 months since my application that was followed by a general interview to get to know the applicants and their motivation, a dive-related test going into detail of diving physics and rescue diving, a practical test to prove buoyancy skills and a physical examn including blood, pulmonary function, chest x-ray and EKG. The commitment is to donate one four hour shift per week for at least a year, feeding fish, cleaning exhibits and, if you want, entertain the visitors through an underwater comm system.

After preparing the food, the normal routine is to feed the Blue Cavern--a replica of a Catalina Island kelp bed, with several ray species, two black sea bass, lots of leopard sharks, moray eels, yellowtail jacks, barracuda, kelp bass and several other species typical for this environment. If the team is large enough, we like to do this with three: two take care of the sharks and the bottom feeders, one feeds the mid level fish (which I did today). It's always fun to interact with the audience behind the 9 inch thick acrylic wall, the kids go crazy when you wave at them. And to give a high five from both sides of the glass makes them see how thick it really is.

After a good 30 minutes we go back, refill our own tanks and rinse all gear and ourselves before we go into the tropical exhibit. There, the black tip sharks get fed from the surface, before the divers go in. Then, it's pure fun to be circled by clouds of swirling color. Here, one diver also feeds romaine lettuce for the vegetarian fish, and another will blow clouds of hair-thin worms into the elkhorn coral to feed the coral fish in a safe environment for them. The coral are artificial, because it would have taken tons of live coral to attempt to make this habitat look like it does--not the proper way to do this. We do, however, grow our own live coral to, some day, replace individual pieces with live material.

This is certainly a highlight of my career as a recreational diver. I'm looking forward to many happy afternoons. Where else can you get so close to your friends from below, and cover half the globe in two hours?


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