March 2, 2016
Written by: Sophie Gaze
Dive Immersion Senior Divemaster
2016 is going to be an epic year in the Dive Immersion Department! At the DEMA (Diving Equipment Manufacturers Association) convention in November of last year, we announced the inception of the Closed-Circuit Rebreather Dive Program at Georgia Aquarium. Our most common suggestion for improvement from our guests is to extend the bottom time of our dive. To remedy this, we are going to be offering a 1.5-hour dive in Ocean Voyager Built by The Home Depot on a Poseidon SE7EN rebreather.
Now, I know you might be thinking, “what on earth is a rebreather?” Well, let me explain… Currently at Georgia Aquarium, the Dive Immersion Program uses an open circuit SCUBA system. This means that the diver has a tank of compressed air with a regulator that delivers the air from the tank through the mouth to the lungs. The air in the tank contains approximately 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen (plus some argon and other nonessential gasses) the same as the air at the surface. Upon exhaling, we respire about 79% nitrogen, 16% oxygen and 5% carbon dioxide. This combination of gasses is expelled from our regulator in the form of bubbles.
The new equipment is called a closed-circuit rebreather, and it allows for a bubble-free dive! The rebreather has two separate tanks, one filled with 100% oxygen and another filled with a diluent, which is essentially just air (79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen). The diver has a breathing loop where the air is circulated rather than expelled from the system. The purpose of a rebreather is to recycle the air that the diver exhales. Inside of the canister, an absorbant scrubs the carbon dioxide from the diver’s exhaled air and cycles the oxygen back around. The tank adds additional oxygen to this “rebreathed” air to compensate for the oxygen lost when it was metabolized by the diver. The diluent is automatically added when necessary to keep the gas components balanced. The technology of the system is extremely advanced, and it requires a great deal of training to learn how to operate it safely.
The Closed-Circuit Rebreather Dive Program at Georgia Aquarium will not be a certification, but it will give divers an opportunity to try out the equipment and experience the basics of rebreather diving in a safe and controlled environment with thousands of awesome animals to encounter. We are excited to open this program to the public in spring 2016.
The first step to launching the program requires training our staff. Last year, both the Assistant Manager of Dive Immersion and the Dive Safety Officer of Georgia Aquarium went down to the Florida Keys to get their Instructor Trainer certification for the Poseidon SE7EN rebreather, which will allow them to train the rest of our staff on this new equipment.
On January 4, we hit the ground running and officially began the intense process of training the bulk of our staff. After working hard to complete the online academics, we began to build the six rebreather units in the Dive Immersion classroom. This was such an exciting and rewarding day because we finally got our hands on the equipment that we had been reading about for months.
The process of building the equipment involved a great deal of trial and error. Our Course Director, Devin Waddell, was there to guide us, but he really encouraged us to follow the manual by ourselves in order to gain competence and confidence with the unit. We quickly learned that setting up a rebreather is a very particular process! The beauty of the whole procedure is that at the end of construction, the rebreather’s computer runs a series of tests to check that the system is set up and functioning correctly.
We learned so much on that first day that it was almost a sensory overload. Being able to inspect the unit piece-by-piece and familiarize ourselves with the setup really helped us gain a thorough understanding of how the system functions as a whole. After taking those first few breaths from the unit in closed-circuit mode we were all eagerly anticipating getting in the water with them! The next stage of our training would take place at the Cobb County Aquatic Center to practice our skills in the pool.