USF Scientific Diving Course Visit
Did you hear that the Keys Marine Laboratory (KML) recently hosted sixteen University of South Florida (USF) undergraduate students for the Department of Integrative Biology’s first-ever Scientific Diving course?
During two weekends in early April, our crew assisted USF Professor Chantale Begin and USF Dive Safety Officer Ben Meister with this student-focused opportunity which was made possible by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO)-sponsored “KML Lab Time Award”. Each group of eight students participated in a total of three days onboard KML’s R/V Diodon, and completed eight field-intensive scientific dives within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. A large majority of the students were recently certified Open Water Divers and their time at KML gave them the opportunity to gain proficiency in essential dive skills/safety, learn a variety of marine survey/underwater photography techniques, and enhance their marine species identification skills. After each day of diving, students partook in classroom sessions led by the USF Instructors.
Speaking of instructors, KML Biological Scientist, JD Reinbott, took some time to catch up with Ben and Chantale after their visit to learn more about their overall experience.
JD: Visiting KML is the final component of your BSC4933 Scientific Diving Course. Are you both able to tell me a bit more on what students learn before coming to KML as well as during their time on site?
Chantale: In BSC4933 Scientific Diving, students gain a strong foundation in all the skills required for scientific diving—with respect to biological surveys in coastal tropical marine ecosystems. We spend time in the classroom going over dive theory, species identification, survey techniques, data analysis, and then practice hands-on skills in the pool and the field. The culmination of the field work is a 3-day trip to the Florida Keys, where students carry out scientific dives to collect data which they then summarize in an oral presentation.
Ben: Like Chantale mentioned, students gain an overall understanding of what Scientific Diving involves. By learning to refine their basic scuba fundamentals, students can task load themselves for data collection processes but do so in a safe and efficient matter. Their experiential learning covers a variety of topics and skills in the classroom, confined water, and multiple open water locations. Such topics range from physics and physiology to first aid and diving rescue, to collection techniques and equipment troubleshooting (to name just a few). In total this class completed over 200 dives spending approximately 20 hours underwater.
JD: It was an absolute blast getting to work with you both as well as your students. Can you tell me a bit more about your experience with KML?
Chantale: KML is the perfect place to give students in Florida an introduction to coral reef ecosystems while simultaneously immersing them in the overall scientific diving process. Especially since it’s not too far of a drive from Tampa. With the on-site dorms being just a few meters from the dock and the dive sites 20-30 minutes away you can pack in a lot in even during a quick visit.
JD: I know there was a lot that went on during your two weekends with us but if you had to choose, what was the #1 highlight from your visit?
Chantale: The operational staff! All three captains made our field work here as smooth as it could be. They were all super friendly, knowledgeable and gave us great briefings on what to expect at each site we visited. We had some difficult weather conditions during our visits but both trips were a success and I’m so grateful to have had KML staff on board with us.
JD: What dive certifications/skills do students walk away with after completing this course?
Ben: Students gain a tremendous amount of experience and ability throughout this course by building on the initial open water certification that most had just recently obtained. These divers are certified in First Aid, CPR, AED, and Emergency Oxygen and receive training for breathing enriched air nitrox. Upon completion, students are fully qualified under the USF/AAUS auspices to conduct scientific diving.
JD: Lastly, how does what the students do while at KML help prepare them for participating in the BSC3368C Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation course?
Chantale: BSC3368C is a USF field course offered in the Caribbean every summer. In this course we partner up with local community organizations to collect data in coastal marine ecosystems and help guide environmental management decisions. Before heading to the Caribbean for the course, students are required to reach AAUS Scientific-diver-in-training status. Students who take BSC4933 Scientific Diving have already carried out many scientific dives and can “hit the ground running” with the associated required field work. This enhances our ability to collect data for our partners and spend more time really digging into the ecological processes at play within the marine ecosystems we survey.
Courses (and experiences) like USF’s diving course play a vital role in engaging students and involving them within the field of marine conservation as well as creating ambassadors for our oceans and eliciting long-term change for the future of our planet. FIO and KML were thrilled to host Chantale, Ben, and their students and are looking forward to future visits from them!