Today was my first volunteer dive in Ocean Voyager (OV) at the Georgia Aquarium! It has been a fairly long process since I began as a volunteer in 2008. The reason that I signed up to volunteer is because I wanted to SCUBA dive in the largest aquarium in the world, and with all of the wonderful fish that live there! I also love SCUBA diving and live in the Atlanta area. I could SCUBA dive in a lake OR…I could find a way to get into that aquarium. I figured, why not have a place to SCUBA dive on a regular basis, be able to practice all of the skills involved with SCUBA diving, get first class training, and help take care of some of the largest and most beautiful fish in the world!
I remember in 2008 when my girlfriend, now wife, and I were at the Beluga exhibit. There was a narrator teaching us about beluga whales and their environment. Inside the tank with the Belugas were two SCUBA divers cleaning the tank. I asked the narrator, “How do I go about SCUBA diving in the aquarium?” He said, “Start Volunteering.” Since then, it has taken me almost 4 years to get into the water!
You may be asking, “Why did it take so long?” Well, every SCUBA diver that visits the GA Aquarium ultimately wants to don gear and jump in! So, they require volunteers to put in a few hours of their time, and get some training in all of the galleries before they can apply for a volunteer spot behind the scenes. However, that’s not what took 4 years. They also want to make sure that the volunteer SCUBA divers know how to dive safely and responsibly. So, they require the divers to have logged several open water dives, and have several certifications for diving and first aid. I had only just earned my open water certification in 2007. Therefore, it took me a few years to complete all of the certifications and prerequisites out of the way. After all, I do have a day job.
I digress. Back to the dive! I’ve only done it twice, but lifting my left hand up, pushing the button to release all of the air out of my BCD and slipping below the surface of OV seems to always leave me speechless. It is there that I look around and see four whale sharks, four giant manta rays, spotted eagle rays, large-tooth saw fish, sand tiger sharks, leopard whip-tail rays, black blotched fan-tail rays, Goliath groupers, guitar fish, and many more that I am actually swimming with. I am enjoying their environment all at the same time. Millions of guests have enjoyed looking into their environment. I figure the least I can do is help maintain their beautiful ecosystem.
That’s right. Us volunteer divers do some of the dirty, but ultimately necessary tasks to help maintain the aquariums tanks and galleries. We descend with scrub brushes and hand towels to scrub the algae and grime off of the rockwork and clean the acrylic. The great part about this is that the harder you scrub, the closer Nandi will get. Nandi is one of the largest and oldest giant manta rays that we have in the Georgia Aquarium. She was saved from the grips of a shark net off the coast of South Africa.
The fact that I am performing some sort of labor while 30 feet under also leaves my mind as soon as we start swimming to the portion of rockwork that we are scrubbing that day. That is when Alice, the 23 foot female whale shark, swims right past my port giving me an up close look at all of her spots from head to tail. These creatures are some of the most beautiful and graceful that I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I’m here, and hopefully I can help.
A few log book type notes:
- Max depth: 30 ft.
- Water temp: 75 degrees F
- Dive time: 58 minutes