My Best Diving Trip

I didn’t realize at the time this would be my most memorable dive trip. So the story I’m about to tell is sad but true.

During my college years, I went to South Carolina to achieve my Advanced PADI certification.   We were on a boat 11 miles off the coast diving an old Civil War wreck.  For those who may not know, there are all types of folks on board with different objectives to their dive-day.

A couple of men had harpoons to fish flounder.  On the first dive, I found myself looking for those men and chasing flounder away from the wreck.  Naive as it may be, I do understand killing fish for food, I just cannot watch it.  Another diver was photographing on the wreck pile.  I noticed she actually sat without buoyancy on the bow and broke off two tube sponges (3 feet each!) I watched the sponges flutter away in the current to their death.  I thought, those poor sponges,  I wonder how many years they were growing there?

On board after the first dive, the men with the harpoon asked me what I was doing? I told them,  but did understand what they were doing for food.  They said; “We’re not doing it for food…we’re doing it for fun.  We don’t even bring them up. “My mouth dropped and all I could say was – Ok?

The boat was bouncing at sea when someone noticed an octopus pelagically pushed onto the dive deck.  Some passengers scrambled to catch it…not to throw it back, but to keep it.  I explained Octupi are difficult to keep and this one won’t live to shore within the timeframe of our arrival.  Did they throw it back —NO— they pulled out a knife and proceeded to chop it up… I walked away with my head down; “What is going on, I thought?”

After the last dive, while packing our gear, I noticed another group who collected live feather stars.  On the drive back to shore, I saw them laying them out on the deck to dry-out along with a few urchins for souvenirs.

It was the most depressing dive-day I have ever encountered.

Years later, I remember a conversation I had with the curator at Gesepes Museum in Baltimore.  He said, “People may appreciate what they see.  It’s human nature to value what they buy.  Guests that have worked or spent hard earned money on similar items that we have are transcended by our collection.  Others just find it interesting.”

I thought about that dive and how it relates to aquariums.  I wondered if some of those folks had any real understanding of marine wildlife.  I wondered if they ever had the opportunity to connect through an aquarium.  An aquarist who buys a fish or coral treats it like a piece of gold.  They can be inspired and have more compassion for wildlife because of it.

Because we are human, and it is human nature to wonder… Aquariums keeping can be one of the best education/conservation tools of our time.

I’ll never forget that dive trip and how that message resonated within me.  I’ve always hoped we’d do right by our sea friends. Through consumer gadgetry, we can galvanize and proclaim.  At this juncture, may we be invigorated to relate ourselves within our planet.

“Securing a better world for fish, through human understanding.”  P. Donston from MM XII