By Lauren Heesemann
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary
Scuba divers are deployed off of the stern of the Small Reserach Vessel, RV-8501. (NOAA)
Dive, dive, dive! I have heard those words so many times from the deck of the boat during our four Battle of the Atlantic Projects. However, never have they meant as much to me as they did during this year's expedition.
I officially became a NOAA scuba diver last summer, but received the certification after last year's BOTA project had already come to an end. However, as I dove on the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary to perform skills and conduct my certification dives, I was thinking about the wrecks off of NC and how exciting it was going to be to finally dive them during the summer of 2011.
Despite having a number of dives under my belt, I have never done the kind of diving that occurs off the research vessel, the RV-8501. Usually, I do a giant stride off of a boat and my fellow divers and I regroup at the surface before descending down an anchor line for a very benign diving experience. It is much more intense during the BOTA projects. Divers stand at the back of the dive well on the RV-8501 with empty BCDs (the jacket that scuba divers wear is called a Buoyancy Control Device) so that they will be negatively buoyant when they hit the water, allowing them to quickly sink to the bottom. This is necessary because the majority of the wrecks that are dived on during the BOTA projects aren't marked with buoys. The captain has the GPS coordinates of a wreck, positions the boat up-current from the shipwreck, and tells the divers to dive, dive, dive! If it takes a diver too long to reach the bottom, they may miss the shipwreck altogether.
So there I was, with butterflies in my stomach, waiting for those three words that would mark my first official dive as a NOAA diver on our BOTA project. Dive, dive, dive! With my regulator in my mouth and my hand over my mask, I stuck one fin out and collapsed into the water. I started to sink below the surface and descended to the Keshena below. I looked around for my dive buddies and we moved closer together so as to reach the bottom as a group. Then, slowly, the silhouette of shipwreck began to emerge below us. It was just as amazing as I thought it would be. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and spent the next 25 minutes exploring this shipwreck that has been resting on the bottom of the ocean for almost 70 years and all the spectacular marine organisms that now call her home.