Hello, my name is Erika Sawicki and this year I received the OWUSS-AAUS Dr. Lee H. Somers Scientific Diving Internship. I am from a small town called Wilbraham, Massachusetts and recently graduated from the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine with a double major in Ocean Studies & Marine Affairs and Environmental Science and a minor in Philosophy. I am extremely grateful for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society (OWUSS) and the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) for their continued effort to create a positive and meaningful learning experience for me this summer.
After an interesting turn in events, I found out I would be completing my AAUS Scientific Diver Certification in La Jolla, California at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) with Diving Safety Officer (DSO) Christian McDonald. One week later, I was on a plane across the country to Los Angeles… Next, I was greeted with the wonderful California traffic and a four hour drive to San Diego.
Massachusetts to California
My first night in San Diego I was warmly welcomed by Faith Ortins and Jeff from Diving Unlimited International (DUI). I had the opportunity to take a tour of DUI and learn how a drysuit was made. It was really fascinating to learn that almost the entire process is done by hand.
Diving Unlimited International
For the rest of my time in California, I was warmly welcomed to stay at Mary and Sally’s condo. Sally Wahrmann is a member of the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame (WDHOF), with extensive knowledge and dive experience of the NE wreck Andrea Doria. After a couple of days of settling in and exploring the area, my Scientific Diver course began on Saturday (6/17). It is a two-week intensive course consisting of very long days, starting at 7:30 am and ending around 5:30/6 pm each day. In addition to our class, homework was required each evening.
Prior to enrolling in a Scientific Diver course you have to fulfill the pre-requisites, which include a medical exam, first aid and emergency oxygen certification, and a recreational SCUBA certification. The AAUS Scientific Diver course includes a minimum of 100 hours of training and 12 dives, along with a swim test, confined water checkouts, and open water checkouts. In addition to the Scientific Diver certification, at SIO you are able to receive Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, Oxygen Provider, and NITROX certifications during the course. I had previously received all but the NITROX certification, but it was a great opportunity to review this material. The class had a wide range of experience levels, but everybody worked together well.
Saturday was an introductory day filled with the swim test and snorkel skills in the pool, along with a swim out to the pier (1,090 feet) and free dive down to the bottom. On Sunday, we started to use our SCUBA equipment. The importance of buddy checks was stressed; no matter how much other planning is happening at the surface for your scientific procedures, a buddy check should always be included. Buoyancy is also an important skill that we practiced. As well, we practiced different scuba entries into the pool, such as the back roll (for small boats) and giant stride.
Monday started in the pool with different stress tests, such as getting gear from the bottom of the pool. We also practiced rescues skills. In addition, we determined proper weighting with our exposure suits and beach entries. Proper weighting will help with your buoyancy control. On Monday, we also started classroom lectures. For the rest of the course, we had a classroom session every day, usually after our dives. Tuesday we practiced our rescue skills in the ocean, which made the whole process a lot more difficult. This was also our first dive of the course. It was used to practice basic skills and explore our main dive site (SIO pier) for the course. Wednesday was our final pool session; we got to practice different skills, such as lift bags, transect measurements, assembly of equipment blindfolded, etc. Although challenging, it was a lot of fun to experience all of these new challenges.
A black piece of plastic was placed in our masks to make it impossible to see when completing the tasks.
Thursday started our new schedule of two morning dives, followed by a classroom session in the afternoon. Each day had a different focus for the dives. For example, Thursday we focused on rescue skills and rocky entries, while on Friday navigation and search patterns were practiced. During our class session, we practiced providing oxygen. We learned how to set up the oxygen kits and also got to experience what it is like to receive oxygen. Oxygen is a life-saving tool that is necessary to be on site for all scientific dives.
Oxygen Provider Practice
After a long and exciting seven days, the first half of the class came to an end. I was exhausted and really looking forward to some sleep over the weekend before the second week began!
Children’s Pool Beach, La Jolla California