Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Waterstart Week 3: Shipwrecks, Snorkels, and the Power of Slowness

Here at Waterstart, it takes a lot of swift transitions in order to get a dozen campers scuba certified in a week’s time. And Week 3 was especially dizzying because two simultaneous camps made for double the students, double the gear, and double the instruction. One moment we are taking multiple-choice PADI quizzes, and the next we are jumping off the good ship Polaris into crystal-clear water above an 1877 Canadian steamship wreck.

But last week, one moment in particular had me pause.  While one group was completing a Confined Water dive at Whalebone, I was out snorkeling with a few girls from the other group. We finned our way to the mouth of the bay, and I was eager to have them push on—on the complete opposite side of the bay I had seen an octopus nearly three weeks ago.  I encouraged them with words and fin-kicks.  Why wouldn’t they snorkel on, and cover more ground? We had a whole hour left!

But they hung around. One held the camera, and played with her breath in order to sink to the bottom and take close-ups of corals. Another watched the fish around a single rock until I was sure she was talking with them; and she certainly had a lot to say when we got back to the lab.

It got me thinking. Whether you’re a diver, a weekend naturalist, or a full-fledged researcher, the fruit of your labor is often times born of profound stillness. The Bermuda Atlantic Time Series (BATS) project is not about getting a quick snapshot of the Atlantic, but about gathering data over decades! The type of changes that we care about in our oceans and climate simply happen over such a time-frame—researches have to secure 30+ years of funding!

And if findings of the sea urchin regeneration studies are ever applied to human medicine, I imagine it would involve days turned into months, turned into years, turned into noticeable changes in a human body.  Both studies are about exploring over time—not covering ground.

There’s a power in slowness and stillness, and it is easy to forget that much of the action and hurry of our day-to-day is truly aimed all that can happen when we slow down, breathe, and observe. 

The four happy Waterstart campers seemed to get this. Zipping around Whalebone Bay wouldn’t have necessarily added to their snorkel, and they all felt the satisfaction of waiting and watching.

But don’t be mistaken… we play it cool here at Waterstart, and strike that perfect balance between stillness and swiftness. We’re already in the thick of Week Four—our first intermediate group—and we’ve already snorkeled Northeast Breaker, gone free-diving at a wreck, and started playing with our brand new ROV kits. Stay tuned!

To follow our adventures at Waterstart, be sure to like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/bios.explorer


The Waterstart Team

Monday, July 14, 2014

Waterstart Week 2

Week 2 was a whirl! Not only did we have another batch of excited and attentive beginning scuba divers, but we made progress with our summer ROV fun as well.

What a dive! 

This past week we gave the Waterstart students the chance to build ROVs of their own. Using just clothes hangers, ping-pong balls, duct tape, small motors, and wires, the students worked in groups to design, build, and test-drive their prototypes. As mentioned in last week’s post, Bermuda Program interns J.D. and Kweshon have been taking the lead on the Waterstart ROV activities.

As graduates of Waterstart and the Marine Science Internship program, J.D. and Kweshon are now taking on more of a leadership role both out on the boat, and in the classroom.  They have BIOS logbooks that date back to 2006, and now you can catch them hauling anchor on Polaris and giving demos in the Clark Lab. The scaffolding of education programs at BIOS allows for this progression of skill development and responsibility, and it’s a lot of fun to see them work. For this week’s activity, Kweshon introduced the students to the significance and many uses of ROV and AUV technology, and then gave them a quick run-through of the materials before letting them give it a go.

Kweshon gives students tips and tricks for adjusting the buoyancy of the ROV. 

The lab was abuzz. With ping-pong balls, rubber bands, sparks, and ideas flying, we knew from the start that the designs would be good. When the creative chaos subsided, we took the ROVs out to a freshwater tank to let the piloting begin.

Alex gives her group some vision in the design of the "H.M.S. Sinkable."

We were struck by the three unique strategies—one ROV was designed to glide the surface, another to dive straight down, and the third to make diagonal dives. The students discussed what each ROV design could be used for out in the open ocean—they mentioned everything from surface-temperature monitoring to deep sea specimen collection—and what modifications they would make in future prototypes.

The team shows off its ROV down at the dock. 

Of course, all of this R&D took place in between our typical scuba instruction. Whalebone Bay, Gibbets, and Cooper’s Island made for excellent confined water training grounds; and once again, we topped off the great week with a mesmerizing open water dive at Hourglass Reef—where each and every glittering fry was enough of a reminder as to why we explore life underwater.

Already, Week 3 is off to a great start. Kweshon and the team will continue to develop the ROV lesson, we will share real-time data from BIOS’s very own AUV glider, and 26 more campers will discover the wonderful world of scuba diving and ocean science.

Alex and Haley enjoy a snorkel at Whalebone Bay. 

Be sure to like us on Facebook for more frequent updates and oodles of pictures: https://www.facebook.com/bios.explorer


The Waterstart Team

Monday, July 7, 2014

Waterstart Week 1

Ocean Academy’s Waterstart camps are back in action for another summer of scuba diving, underwater exploration, and all around sunshiny fun!While the summer began with a week of Rescue Diver training, this week we welcomed our first group of beginner students—all seeking their Jr. Scuba Diver certification.

The group was eager to dive in, so after the prescribed PADI instructional videos, knowledge reviews, and confined water dives at Gibbets and Whalebone, everyone made an awe-inspiring descent to 30 ft. at Hourglass Reef, where 50 ft. visibility, delicate seafans, and curious puddingwives made all the BCD review, finicky mask-clearing, and hovering practice totally worth it.

 After the dive, Saxon, 12 sat on the swim deck, smiling through the suction of her mask, and said “that was definitely the coolest thing I’ve done in my life.”

It’s one thing to know that magically beautiful and biodiverse reefs are just below the surface, but to swim through one with 10 new friends is truly a wrasse of a different color!

All the while, Waterstart alumni and current interns J.D. and Kweshon worked throughout the week with one of Waterstart’s jazzy new ROV kits. Ocean Academy is exploring ways of integrating ROV kits into local classroom curriculum, and our Waterstart summer programs make the best of test grounds.

By the end of the week, all the campers joined J.D. and Kweshon in trouble-shooting and piloting the ROV, both on the dock, and aboard Polaris. We kept asking ourselves: Is the buoyancy in check? Is the view clear? How can I fine tune my piloting? How should we care for the equipment? These little challenges take some understanding and problem solving, but they are challenges faced daily by research scientists, and are similar to the challenges faced by a beginning diver.  

By Friday, we had attached a GoPro camera to the ROV, were sending it out on the reef, using it to supplement our normal fish survey activity, and dreaming up lionfish-spearing ROV contraptions. And of course, everyone got a kick out of watching the ROV’s recording of our PADI skills practice—there’s nothing quite like seeing your friend underwater, face towards the surface, wildly blowing streams of bubbles out his nose, and then fist-bumping his proud instructor!

What a great week! With both scuba and the ROV kit, the students discovered that with some good tinkering, preparation, and skills building, it becomes fun and easy to explore the sea. Now we are all geared up for our second batch of beginner Waterstart campers… we can’t wait to see their smiling faces this morning!


The Waterstart Team

For more photos, and to stay up-to-date on the summer’s adventures, like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bios.explorer