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DIVE DRY WITH DR. BILL #807: WHY I DO WHAT I DO

Discussion in 'California' started by drbill, Apr 7, 2019.

  1. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA
    22,337
    5,125
    113
    DIVE DRY WITH DR. BILL #807: WHY I DO WHAT I DO

    Catalina is a mecca for divers wishing to experience our usually luxuriant giant kelp forests. There are few places in the world one can go and have such a stress-free entry into the amazing world of Macrocystis pyrifera. Divers come from all over the world to experience what I see almost daily. I am considered an ex-spurt on the marine life in our temperate ocean. So why don't I earn the big bucks by taking divers out and teaching them about what there is to see? Well, first of all no dive professional makes big bucks. Just ask any of our local instructors or dive masters. Second of all, I'm not qualified to serve as a professional dive guide... at least in the eyes of the major dive certification agencies. Third of all, should something go wrong on a dive I might be found liable in court. That's the great thing about fish, invertebrates and algae... they don't sue!

    As a life-long educator I have a passion for sharing my knowledge about marine life with others... divers and non-divers alike. I find it especially gratifying to expose non-divers to the wonders of the ocean since they usually don't witness it first hand. When a local checker at Vons, or a hotel maid or a restaurant waiter expresses their thanks for my "Dive Dry" columns or my cable TV show, I feel rewarded for my efforts. If I can open up an avenue for non-divers to experience our marine critters, perhaps they will come to love them like I do and want to protect them for future generations.

    One might think my primary audience would be the divers who visit our waters. I have been recognized by many of them as a great resource for information about Catalina waters. Several years ago I was even awarded the prestigious California SCUBA Service Award joining the likes of one-time dive buddy Wyland, dive legend Bob Meistrell, Karl Huggins of the USC chamber and others who received this award before me. Later REEF Check honored me with the Poseidon Award as a "Hero of the Reef," joining the likes of my friend Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Sylvia Earle. These certainly came as a shock, and I was very honored at the recognition for my decades of involvement in marine education and diving.

    I also want divers to better understand the world they immerse themselves in. I feel that with better understanding of the species and ecological relationships between them, divers will become better stewards of the environment we choose as a second home and be more respectful of its other residents. For me diving is all about learning more about the natural world... oh, and enjoying the feeling of weightlessness in a three-dimensional environment like the astronauts do in space. Of course that's why some of the training these space pioneers receive is conducted in and under the water!

    Back in the 1960s Gary Snyder wrote in his poem "What You Need to Know to be A Poet" that one should learn "all you can about animals as persons/the names of trees and flowers and weeds/names of stars and the movements of the planets and the moon." In other words learn about the natural world around you. I taught this in my classes at Toyon Bay and live it today by keeping a watchful eye when I dive our waters. In the words of another favorite poet, Robinson Jeffers, humans should "uncenter themselves" from the strictly human world and become more familiar with all life that occupies our planet.

    SCUBA instruction today is nowhere near as intense as it was back in the 1960s when I got certified. However even in those expanded courses we didn't really learn much about the life we saw around us, and much of what we did learn was focused on taking it for food. Certainly nothing wrong with munching a few of our fellow residents. After all, we are part of "the Mutual Eating Society" as I taught my students. It has been good to see a shift in emphasis towards the conservation of our marine life. One must know the species one sees, their natural history and their interactions with other life forms to best understand how to accomplish this. That has always been a goal of mine dating back to my college years in the mid 1960s and my very first classroom teaching here on the island.

    At times I am totally mystified at how little some divers... and even dive instructors and other professionals... know about marine life. Of course their primary responsibility is to teach safe diving techniques and ensure their students are equipped for the challenges of breathing underwater. That's where I step in. Through my weekly "Dive Dry" newspaper column, my "Munching & Mating in the Macrocystis" cable TV show, my educational DVDs, my talks to dive clubs and my interactions with other divers at Casino Point, on board our local dive boats and while traveling, I try to help increase their knowledge of the underwater world and thereby their appreciation for it and add additional joy to their diving experience. Let me give a few examples.

    In the early 2000s I was pursuing a giant sea bass (which I prefer to call "fairly large polka-dotted wreckfish") to acquire footage of these magnificent fish which are making a comeback in our waters. I was following it toward the harbor end of the dive park when I saw three divers in the kelp right where the gentle giant was heading. I decided to stop my pursuit so those three divers could experience the wonder of seeing one of these fish, which at the time were a rare sighting. About 10 minutes after I surfaced from my dive, the three exited on the stairs and ran up to me yelling "Why did you chase that large shark toward us." Wow... what a case of mistaken identity and a missed opportunity for these folks!

    Another day I was relaxing during my surface interval between dives when I observed several divers walk past me talking about the shark they had seen in the dive park. I listened carefully to their comments and was blown away when one said "it was definitely a thresher... I know it." Well, thresher sharks have been seen in our offshore waters, but they are an extremely rare sight these days and generally not in shallow water. I invited the divers to come over to the Dr, Bill Mobile (my golf cart) to look at the segments on sharks and rays in my "Fish ID" DVD. Suddenly the diver who thought he had seen a thresher pointed to the LCD and said "there it is!" He was pointing to a Pacific torpedo or electric ray. Certainly a closer relative to the thresher shark than a giant sea bass is, but no cigar on that ID!

    Years ago I was contacted by Janna Nichols from Washington State who works with REEF (the Reef Environmental Education Foundation). REEF educates recreational divers to conduct surveys of the marine life in various parts of the country. These data may then be used to look at trends in the marine environment such as changes in species composition that might be associated with ocean warming due to global climate change. Their effort is very similar to that of the Catalina Conservancy Divers who initiated such studies in our island waters a few decades ago but were later sadly disbanded by the parent organization.

    Janna asked me about any sightings I had recorded of the Guadalupe cardinalfish (Apogon guadalupensis), a species generally found much farther to the south extending past the tip of Baja. They are known to enter our region during warm water episodes and their accepted northern limit of distribution is southern California. Janna said a few REEF surveys had been turned in listing the Guadalupe cardinalfish as "common" in the Casino Point Dive Park. I told Janna that in the last 13 years I had only observed one cardinalfish in the dive park, way back in June of 2001. Later on after several unusually warm years, another species, the plain cardinalfish (Apogon atricaudus) became pretty common in the dive park, especially at night when they come out of hiding to feed.

    However, it turned out the volunteer who recorded the "common" Guadalupe cardinalfish was actually seeing the kelp surfperch, a totally unrelated and very common resident in our waters. These examples illustrate the need for good species identification skills on the part of divers. Classes in the recognition of regional fish species are one educational effort conducted by Janna and other REEF folks as well as Reef Check. I share my knowledge with the divers that visit us here at Casino Point. That is why I do what I do.

    © 2019 Dr. Bill Bushing. For the entire archived set of over 800 "Dive Dry" columns, visit my website Star Thrower Educational Multimedia (S.T.E.M.) Home Page


    Image caption: Giant sea bass and great white shark; plain cardinalfish and kelp surfperch.


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    Dark Wolf, Sam Miller III and Jcp2 like this.
  2. MaxBottomtime

    MaxBottomtime Divemaster

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Torrance, CA
    8,522
    7,196
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    One of the wonderful factors of the Worldwide Interweb is that information is now readily available to nearly everyone. It's the World's largest library. Unfortunately, it's also a great place for misinformation. I feel like a jerk when I correct someone who misidentifies something, but I feel better knowing that others may learn from it. I'm also embarrassed when I get an I.D. wrong, but appreciate being corrected. With the changing names due to dna studies, it gets even more confusing.
     
  3. Jcp2

    Jcp2 Barracuda

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    This is a good reason to carry a small camera and light to take pictures of what one sees, to make sure the identification made at the time of observation is accurate.
     

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