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Georgia Aquarium Blog

Georgia Aquarium provides an entertaining, engaging and educational experience inspiring stewardship in conservation, research and the appreciation for the animal world. Visit us at www.georgiaaquarium.org.




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Tuesday
May052015

Favorite Fishes

June 16, 2015

Favorite Fishes 

Written by: Constance Towles
Georgia Aquarium Divemaster

The first time I dove in Ocean Voyager Built by The Home Depot, I was overwhelmed by the variety of fishes: more than 16 species of sharks and rays, schools of reef fish swimming by the tunnel, giant grouper, batfish, angelfish, jacks, etc. Wow! I don’t know of another place on Earth where a diver can see such a concentrated variety of fishes! The second time I dove here, I looked a little closer and discovered patterns and interactions among the animals. For example, the bluestreak cleaner wrasses swim in and out of giant grouper mouths as if they were tiny dentists. Male sharks often chase female sharks as if engaging in a game of cat and mouse. By the 50th dive, I not only saw thousands of such interactions, but I began to favor certain animals. Now, after hundreds of dives at Georgia Aquarium, some of my coworkers and I have hands down favorites.

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Wednesday
Apr152015

Dive Ops Spring Cleaning at Georgia Aquarium

April 15, 2015

Spring Cleaning at Georgia Aquarium 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

Spring in Atlanta is a beautiful time of year that is traditionally greeted with spring-cleaning throughout the South. Here at Georgia Aquarium, everyday is spring-cleaning for us! This time of year our divers are working hard to get our exhibits looking spic-and-span for our busy summer season above and below the water. Cleaning more than 10 million gallons worth of watery worlds is not a small project. That’s why we are so grateful for our maintenance diving team who isn’t afraid to get down and dirty to get the job done!

Cleaning underwater is just like cleaning on land. We have to scrub, vacuum and – most importantly – we even clean and polish windows! It’s just trickier when all of these chores must be carried out underwater. 

Dive Operations Intern, Erica Allen, cleaning the African Cichlids exhibit on surface supply.

To become a maintenance diver at the Aquarium requires training and skill, and has a surprisingly high demand! We have a staff of 20-paid maintenance divers and over 150 volunteer divers. Yes, you read that correctly, we have that many people who volunteer their free time to come here and get to work cleaning our environments!

Our Zoological Operations teams have specially designed and repurposed tools to use underwater to get the job done. For example, in Ocean Voyager Built By The Home Depot, an impressive vacuum system was constructed under the sand. Our divers hook up 5-gallon water jugs with the bottom cut up to hoses. These hoses connect to a manifold that is connected to a suction system operated by our Life Support Systems team. The drums are used to siphon the sand by sorting out unwanted debris from viable sand using the suction. This technique is also used throughout the Aquarium on a smaller scale. 

Sometimes we have to get creative to get those hard-to-reach places in the environment!

In addition to vacuuming, one very important job is to scrub algae from our non-living substrate. Just like in your aquarium at home, algae can build up in our environment. When you have a 6.3 million gallon exhibit, performing a water change and scrubbing the display rocks in the sink with a toothbrush is suddenly not as simple. Therefore, we put divers in every morning before the Aquarium opens to scrub the rocks with hand brushes. We also do what's fondly referred to as a Blitz Dive about once a month. This is when we put in 20+ divers to do a huge clean of the Ocean Voyager Built By The Home Depot exhibit. The divers are in for about three hours and cover a great deal of substrate. These dives are very popular and fill up almost immediately when they are posted on our volunteer diver web site!

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Thursday
Apr092015

Another Day In Paradise #LoveMyJob

April 10, 2015

Another Day In Paradise #LoveMyJob 

Swimming and diving with whale sharks and manta rays every day is nothing short of a dream job, but what really makes our divers show up each day with that goofy smile on their face… the guests, the animals, their team mates? Our staff has shared some of their favorite photos and experiences to show you why they truly love this job!

Connie:

My favorite part about this job is seeing the elation, the relief and the calm in a swimmer’s face when they enter our exhibit. It is nothing short of amazing. When a person tells me that this was the first time they have not felt pain since their injury, my soul smiles. I have happily learned that swimming with these amazing animals changes almost every person. People often leave the deck of Ocean Voyager Built By The Home Depot looking toward something greater than themselves. When I come into “the office,” I know that in this place there is magic, hope, laughter and fulfillment. In the middle of Atlanta, I have found a little piece of paradise. 

Liz:

I have been a Divemaster at Georgia Aquarium for more than five years. I never tire of diving and swimming with such a wonderful array of fish. One of my favorite things is playing with the kids on the other side of the window.  Their little eyes light up in amazement when they see a human breathing underwater. Hopefully such encounters leave a lasting impression in young minds to protect these majestic animals.

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Tuesday
Mar172015

Moonwalking Under the Sea

March 17, 2015

Moonwalking Under The Sea 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

With over 10 million gallons of water in more than 60 exhibits, it is hard to believe that only three of those exhibits are accessed with a SCUBA unit. The many other exhibits are too small to allow for a 60-lb, 100 cubic-foot cylinder to comfortably fit with a diver attached to it! Instead, we use a method of diving called surface supply.

This is where the commercial diving background of our Dive Safety Officer greatly comes into play. Commercial and military divers originally used surface supply for especially deep, long dives or for diving in contaminated water. Instead of a self-contained breathing unit like we use in SCUBA, surface supply diving is set up with the air cylinders on the surface and the diver is connected via a long hose referred to as an umbilical. The diver wears a full-face mask and is able to maintain communication to a surface tender that is watching the air pressures in the cylinders. Here at Georgia Aquarium, we dive this system in the smaller spaces that need to be cleaned and maintained.

The view from the Tender's chair: 2 tank portable dive cart and Ocean Voyager Built By The Home Depot in the background.

The cart that we use at the Aquarium is quite unique to the industry. Brett Dodson, a former employee of the Georgia Aquarium who is now the Dive Safety Officer at Texas A&M University, was the creator of the original design for this specific cart. The goal was to create a portable surface supply unit that could be taken practically anywhere throughout the building. Each unit can supply up to four divers with air via umbilical hoses. All divers breathe from the same tank, and when that tank has been breathed down the tender switches to another tank. Since the original design, Jeff Reid, Georgia Aquarium Dive Safety Officer, and Jim McAlister, Assistant Dive Safety Officer, have perfected its design to create an eight tank cart that can support six divers for about two and a half hours. This cart is for the for the lengthy and more complicated underwater projects that need to be accomplished throughout the Aquarium.

The specially designed eight tank cart that can support six divers for two and a half hours.

Georgia Aquarium’s surface supply course is 16-hours of training, with 6 hours of classroom time and 10 hours of diving. The classroom portion covers the equipment, communication procedures, protocols for being the tender, and the emergency action plan. Once the students have passed a knowledge review, the underwater fun part begins!

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Tuesday
Mar032015

Insights from a Dive Operations Intern

March 3, 2015

From the Bottom Looking Up: Insights from a Dive Operations Intern 

Written by: Ben Kappell
Georgia Aquarium Dive Operations Intern

Hi everybody! My name is Ben Kappel, and I am the Intern for the Dive Operations Team for the Fall 2014 semester. I wanted to submit a blog post about my experiences as an intern for the Dive Operations Team at Georgia Aquarium and hopefully provide some insight to anyone out there who is looking into applying for this opportunity!  

When researching how to gain entry-level experience into the world of diving, and trust me, I researched – a lot. I stumbled across the former Georgia Aquarium Dive Operations blog and I was instantly hooked. I read about previous interns’ experiences, some of the amazing recreational therapy work that the Dive Immersion team does and about the various projects that the Dive Ops team has assisted with around the Aquarium. In light of the inspiration that the former blog gave to me, I figured I could throw my hat into the ring and provide a little perspective on my life as a Dive Ops Intern. However, to know where I am, you have to know where I came from…

While I am surely not the first, I am a bit of an “unconventional” intern because I am not currently enrolled in college. I graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2012 with a degree in Psychology and Political Science and worked in Residence Life (professional staff for college dorms) for two years after I graduated. As much as I enjoyed working with students, I decided it was time for me to test the waters in the diving field, a dream I’ve had for a while. Taking the risk, I left my professional work behind, sent applications and was, thankfully, selected to join the team at Georgia Aquarium.  Note to the reader: Do not be discouraged if you are not a dive “pro” yet… Apply Anyway!

I started working at the Aquarium early August 2014 and my time here has been both a wonderful and humbling experience. Not having much knowledge about the diving world outside of my Open Water certification and a few trips here and there, I stepped into Dive Ops and was instantly surrounded by a crowd of divers who were ridiculously more experienced than I am - divers with literally thousands of more dives logged than me – and I was learning to use gear I had only read about.

Some interns bring the boss coffee, I fill my boss's SCUBA tanks.

Needless to say…trying to blend in with such a team is truly a daunting thing. It was a bit of a shock at first, but I quickly acclimated to all the faces, all the roles and all the many facets of the day-to-day operations that go on behind the Aquarium public’s eye. Now, a regular office intern may expect to file paperwork or go get coffee, but as the Dive Intern, I learned that I would be filling tanks... A LOT of them! In my first week, I met the Maintenance Dive Team who lives down in the underbelly of the Aquarium. They trained me how to operate the compressor to fill SCUBA tanks and how to conduct gear inspections. It is a slightly tedious, yet incredibly important job as a member of the Dive Ops team, and everyone has to chip in!

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Wednesday
Feb182015

Lunchtime in Ocean Voyager built by The Home Depot

February 23, 2015

Lunchtime in Ocean Voyager built by The Home Depot 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

LOOK OUT!!! Georgia Aquarium is now home to some hungry fish! Feeds in Ocean Voyager built by The Home Depot begin and are held daily around 12:15 PM.

Our largest exhibit recently acquired a variety of sized reef balls, artificial environments that will house new ornamental fish in the exhibit. The reef balls are located along the tunnel for optimal viewing, as well as strategically throughout the deep end of Ocean Voyager built by The Home Depot. The goal of these reef balls is to draw our smaller inhabitants closer to the windows for optimal guest viewing.

In the ocean, reef balls are utilized to enhance natural coral reefs, to provide beach stabilization, or to create a sport-fishing habitat. In our Aquairum, the reef balls are simulating this purpose by providing a home for our growing community of smaller fish.

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Friday
Oct242014

Aquarium Divers Explore The Silent World

October 24, 2014

Aquarium Divers Explore The Silent World 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

SCUBA divers do everything they can to fit in with the underwater world. We wear fins on our feet to move us efficiently through the water. We wear a wetsuit on our bodies to keep us warm as we lose body weight 25 times faster in water. We wear a mask to allow us to see clearly in the water and we put on a unit that allows us to safely breathe air below the surface. Since the first men tried to breathe underwater, the SCUBA unit has evolved into an efficient system that is easy to learn, to use, and to maintain.

Despite the successful development of this system, SCUBA divers still don’t quite fit in with the underwater world. First, the bubbles produced from exhalations on an open circuit unit often scare away underwater life. A second, more significant limitation, is that with traditional SCUBA we have a restricted supply of air in our tank. Once that air is consumed, it’s time to go back the surface. Finally, our bodies have not developed to exist under the great pressure of the water on top of us. At depth, our bodies absorb more nitrogen in an effort to stay in equilibrium with the pressure surrounding us. Therefore, when we are diving we have higher concentrations of nitrogen in our tissues than normal. It is for these reasons, along with the great potential for future endeavors, that Georgia Aquarium has decided to enhance the capabilities of the dive team and train select divers on a different type of equipment.

Dive Operations Manager, Jim McAllister, diving a CCR in Ocean Voyager Built by The Home Depot.

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Monday
Oct202014

No gear, no bubbles, no problems

October 21, 2014

No Gear, No Bubbles, No Problems 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Dive Immersion Senior Divemaster

I am floating horizontally off the east coast of Florida in 600 feet of water. My face is submerged, looking down into the blue abyss, and my eyes are trying to focus on the nothingness in front of me. My left hand is pointed vertically straight down to the ocean floor that is so far below me. My right thumb and forefinger are positioned on my nose in preparation to equalize. I am taking deep breaths in and out of my snorkel, trying to lower my heart rate and enter a level of relaxation that seems impossible to achieve in this moment of uncertainty. I breathe in deep from my snorkel, filling my whole chest cavity with one last precious breath of air and simultaneously blow through my nose to equalize my ears. I am about to attempt a breath hold dive to 66 feet. A depth that typically seems so achievable when I am SCUBA diving now seems like alien territory…

As an introductory freediver, I cannot imagine going to the depths that the various disciplines of world record holders have reached. 66 feet was enough for me that day, but after my level one-freediver course it’s safe to say I became addicted to the feeling. I am now driven to push my limits in the way that so many before me have been captivated by this sport.

‘To hold your breath is not to suspend life, but to experience its magic vividly’ – Emma Farrell, British freediving instructor and author of One Breath: A Reflection on Freediving

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Sunday
Oct052014

Dive Safety

October 10, 2014

Dive Safety at Georgia Aquarium 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

As divers, we are acutely aware of the inherent risk that our job demands. Being land mammals that breathe underwater, we are essentially cheating death everyday. Consequently, at Georgia Aquarium dive safety is our number one priority. Not only do we adhere to the safety measures set by the Aquarium, but our dive team also complies with three separate diving community’s standards: Scientific Diving (AAUS), Recreational Diving (WRSTC), and Commercial Diving (OSHA).

 To the layman, SCUBA diving may sound like an incredibly dangerous activity. However, if you receive the proper training and take all the necessary preventive measures, it is actually relatively safe. Most diving accidents occur due to diver error or diving beyond your certification level, so our safety is mostly in our control. It is for this reason that our Dive Safety Officer, Jeff Reid, insisted on the development of a vigilant training regime to ensure that our divers are prepared for anything.

Dive Safety Officer, Jeff Reid, oversees Dive Immersion Coordinator, Devin Waddell, and Dive Immersion Manager, Susan Oglesby, perform in a drill.

 

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Wednesday
Sep172014

"Blitz Dive" in Ocean Voyager built by The Home Depot 

September 17, 2014

"Blitz Dive" in Ocean Voyager built by The Home Depot  

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

One of the most important jobs of Georgia Aquarium's Dive Team is to keep the exhibits clean in order to maintain a healthy environment for the aquatic life within. Every few months the Zoological Operations Department organizes what is known fondly among the divers as a “Blitz Dive.” This is a large scale cleaning dive using three high pressured scrubbers and multiple hand scrubbers to maintain a healthy environment for our collection of creatures.

Aquarist diver, Caila, is very excited to keep the divers and animals safe!

A great deal of consideration and planning has to happen in order to coordinate these substantial cleaning endeavors. The safety divers must constantly be tending the high pressure lines to keep our divers safe and the animals out of the way during the dive. The visibility of the environment also deteriorates due to the algae that inevitably get picked up into the water column, even with our highly efficient filtration system hard at work. The safety dive team is in charge of “calling” the dive if the conditions become too difficult to work in.

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