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Georgia Aquarium Blog

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Task Force Dagger Foundation Visits Georgia Aquarium

September 26, 2014

Task Force Dagger Foundation Visits Georgia Aquarium 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

The month of September will always transport Americans back to that fateful day when the tragic events of 9-11 changed our county’s history. For military families, this day was even more consequential as deep down they knew that their loved ones would soon be called to duty overseas to right this unforgivable wrong. Since 2001, over 6,000 soldiers have lost their lives, leaving their families behind to cope with the loss.

In August, the Dive Immersion department hosted a group of Purple Heart Awardee and Gold Star families represented by the Task Force Dagger Foundation. This was an all-day event that involved extensive pre-planning to successfully tour over 30 divers and swimmers through Ocean Voyager built by the Home Depot.

Our day began by greeting the group in the Oceans Ballroom, where our COO and Aquarium President, David Kimmel, welcomed our guests and a Gold Star wife presented on her personal journey. The speech transported us into the life of a military wife and explained how deeply her world was rocked the day she was told her husband had been killed in action. Her presentation ended with a message of confidence, motivating families who have experienced loss to carry on in the face of adversity. At the end of the assembly, the Task Force Dagger Foundation awarded David Kimmel, with two military coins to recognize our institution's commitment to veterans and their families.

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Handicap Scuba Association Training

September 10, 2014

Handicap Scuba Association Training 

Written By: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

Since Georgia Aquarium instated the Dive Immersion Journey with Gentle Giants Program in 2008, the Aquarium has hosted more than 800 guests with disabilities. Each staff member of the Dive Immersion Department is trained to accommodate and serve persons with disabilities from complete quadriplegic, to a blindness, to post traumatic stress disorder. This is a rewarding part of the Dive Immersion Program that is very dear to the staff’s hearts due to the transformation we witness as the guests enter the water.

Divemasters, Liz and Chip, assist a simulated diver with quadriplegia.

Our staff has to be properly trained in order to respectfully and effectively serve divers and swimmers with specific needs or limitations. To do this, upon employment at Georgia Aquarium, each member of the Dive Immersion Department is certified as a Handicap Scuba Association Divemaster or Instructor. This three day course consists of a classroom session, a confined water session, and an open water session where the participants learn a great deal about themselves as individuals and as SCUBA divers! 

The classroom portion is an overview of different physical or mental disabilities that one may come across while working as a dive professional. The underlying idea is that knowledge is power and the more the staff recognizes disabilities, the better equipped we are to support all guests as divemasters or instructors.

The in-water trainings are a challenge for the student divers as they go through what it feels like to be a diver who is blind, a diver who is an amputee, and even a diver with quadriplegia. This is a very mind opening experience as divers can often take their abilities for granted, both on land and underwater. The even greater lesson, however, is to understand how much persons with disabilities can do underwater when provided with adequate training.

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Meet a Diver Program

September 5, 2014

Georgia Aquarium's Meet a Diver Program 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

Guests at Georgia Aquarium should be on the lookout for a new character that has splashed his way from the water into the galleries – a real Aquarium SCUBA Diver! Georgia Aquarium’s Dive Team, in collaboration with the Guest Programs Department, has developed an interactive opportunity for guests to come face to mask with one of our Dive Team members.

Fish out of water: SCUBA diver in front of Tropical Diver presented by Southwest

The diver, equipped head to toe in full SCUBA gear, will perform various scheduled presentations in Ocean Voyager built by the Home Depot and Tropical Diver presented by Southwest. Adults and children will have the unique opportunity to learn about the SCUBA gear from an experienced diver, ask questions about what it’s like to dive in the Aquarium, and maybe even become inspired to also get SCUBA certified one day! 

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Shark Week

August 4, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Shark Week 2014! 

Written by: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

When most people think of sharks they envision iconic scenes from Jaws and other media representations where an unsuspecting swimmer is violently attacked by a merciless killer shark and taken down to the deep, never to be seen again. Fortunately for someone like me who has made a living swimming and diving with sharks, this is not considered the norm for these incredible predators.

Ever since I can remember, I have been absolutely enchanted by sharks. I was born on the coast of England, but raised by the ocean in South Florida. I was fortunate enough to spend my childhood and adolescence island hopping in the Caribbean and participating in anything and everything ocean related. I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment that I first caught sight of a shark underwater, but quite honestly, I was too young to tell you. I have watched a home video where my dad asks me what was my favorite part about our most recent snorkeling trip to the keys, and my four-year-old self enthusiastically yells at the camera: “the nurse sharks!”

Six years old and totally fearless!

Fast-forward fifteen years and you can imagine my delight when I found out that I would have the life changing opportunity to intern in the Dive Operations Department at Georgia Aquarium. Upon securing the internship, my first question for my boss was, “which sharks to do I get to dive with?” To which he warmly replied, “All of them!” That was the magical moment that I learned my summer would be spent diving with sandbar sharks, spotted wobbegong sharks, tasselled wobbegong sharks, black tip reef sharks, zebra sharks, and of course, whale sharks! I felt no fear or trepidation, only an all-consuming sense of excitement for this unbelievable adventure I was about to embark on.

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Veteran Immersion Program

July 2, 2014

Georgia Aquarium's Veteran Immersion Program 

Written by: Sophie Gaze,
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

“I felt on my drive home like I had just had therapy that targeted my deepest injuries - injuries that have haunted my subconscious making my life difficult, without really knowing how to soothe the pain. Today I found peace. Not just while underwater, but by the people who surrounded me. And I could see in others that they were experiencing the same.” – Atlanta Wounded Warrior Project, February 19, 2014.

As divers by profession, we can attest to the theory that water heals most troubles. Jacques Yves Cousteau, the naval officer who helped develop the Aqua Lung, said that “man only has to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” Whether we are in a fight with our spouse, we are worried about bills, or our favorite team did not qualify in the World Cup, as soon as we submerge our busy minds below the water at the Aquarium, all of those so called problems seem to melt away. These are trivial issues compared to the severe emotional and physical injuries that our veterans return home with.

Veterans get an appreciation for the size of our whale shark!

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June 29, 2014

Diver's Journal: A Different Kind of Farming 

Written By: Jonathan Langham
Georgia Aquarium Dive Coordinator

 In May of 2014, I was one of four staff members from Georgia Aquarium who flew down to South Florida to spend a week in Key Largo diving with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). Our goal was to gather “frags” of Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) in the coral nursery offshore and then plant them onto the reef. Frags are small pieces of coral that are clipped off from larger pieces and grown to produce more coral. I was joined by three staff aquarists, Sally Densmore, Zelie Wooten, and Kevin Bush, from the fish and invertebrates wing of Georgia Aquarium’s Zoological Operations Department. We spent the next week working hand in hand with CRF.

Coral trees in the offshore nursery.

On the first day, we spent the morning in the CRF classroom learning about the coral we were planting. They taught us how to attach the coral frags in the nursery and how to transport and attach the larger ones out onto the reef. This consisted of hands-on learning where we practiced how to loop the line around the Staghorn coral and crimp it down, as well as learning how to attach epoxy in order to secure the coral to the reef. The rest of the afternoon, we were out in the nursery applying the skills we just learned.

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Introducing Georgia Aquarium's Dive Team

June 18, 2014

Introducing Georgia Aquarium's Dive Team 

Written By: Sophie Gaze
Georgia Aquarium Senior Divemaster

Georgia Aquarium is home to a team of highly experienced SCUBA dive staff and volunteers who represent the underwater task force within the facility. Our Mission is to be one of the safest and most qualified dive programs at any institution in the world. The Dive Team exists within two departments, the Dive Operations Department and the Dive Immersion Program.

The Dive Operations Department is a dynamic group of staff and volunteers involved in exhibit maintenance, repairs, scientific research diving,  gear servicing, mixed-gas technical diving, rebreather diving, cave diving, free diving, surface supply diving, and commercial diving. This team works collaboratively with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) in the Florida Keys to restore and preserve critically endangered coral reefs. 

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