Dive Careers

OWUSS and Rolex Offer 2016 Scholarships to Future Dive Leaders

From dry suit diving in the brisk waters off California’s Catalina Island to gearing up in chain mail for a shark feed in the Bahamas, the life of a Rolex/Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society Scholar is a yearlong underwater thrill ride. Current North American Rolex Scholar Michele Felberg shares an exciting experience on her blog from earlier this summer: “I was grinning from ear to ear like a goof, so energized,” she said, describing her feelings as she donned a chain-mail suit to walk fin-less along the sandy bottom at Shark Junction in the Bahamas, first just observing, then interacting and feeding Caribbean reef sharks.

“There is no question about it — the scholarship has opened the door to so many opportunities to visit places and work with people I’d never otherwise get to meet,” says Michele, who is just six months into her scholarship year.

The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society provides experiences for scholars to not only learn more about marine environments but also the local cultures that rely on them. Earlier in the year, Michele visited the Dominican Republic with a team from Indiana University to conduct surveys and maintenance on several previously established shipwreck sites. It was in the Dominican Republic where she realized the adverse affects of humans on our underwater world. It’s important “to convince local communities that there is more value in the long-term preservation of the marine environment than the short-term depletion of those resources,” Michele says.


North American OWUSS Scholar Michele Felberg assisting with surveys and maintenance on several previously established shipwreck sites in the Dominican Republic.

Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society and Rolex have been working together for over 40 years on a shared mission: to identify and develop the next generation of dive leaders and underwater researchers. Over the last four decades, the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society and Rolex have fostered the development of future leaders of the underwater environment like Michele. Today they are seeking applicants for the 2016 Scholarships. Currently, three Rolex Scholarships are awarded, to applicants in North America, Europe and Australasia. During the scholarship year, the three winners have the opportunity to travel internationally and learn from the world’s leading experts in conservation, underwater photography, maritime archaeology, marine engineering and other related fields.

If you or somebody you know are between the ages of 21 and 26, have high academic standing and have achieved Rescue Diver or equivalent certification, continue reading at OWUScholarship.org to learn why being the next Rolex Scholar is a life-changing experience. Application deadlines for the 2016 Scholarship year are as follows: North American and European applications are due December 31, 2015. Deadline for 2016 Australasian Scholarship application is January 31, 2016. The organization also offers numerous internships, which can be viewed here. Application deadline for internships is January 31, 2016.

Keep up with Michele’s travels as the North American Rolex Scholar on her blog.

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The World’s Dirtiest Dive Jobs

For most divers, spending time underwater is all about having fun. But some see the underwater world in a totally different way: as a job — and a challenging one at that. From commercial divers to underwater investigators, we spoke to five brave men and women who earn their livings in treacherous environments, where their skill and experience keeps them safe when they work — underwater.

Nuclear Reactor Diver

Commercial diving — working underwater, usually wearing a helmet with surface-supplied air rather than a scuba tank — encompasses a variety of diving jobs, but few raise eyebrows so much as those in and around nuclear reactors.

Before she went to commercial-diving school, Kyra Richter had been a scuba diver for 10 years, working as a dive instructor in Asia and the Caribbean, and as a technical cave diver in Mexico’s cenotes. “Despite all this, I knew as a woman I’d have a hard time in the male-dominated environment of offshore commercial diving, even though my dream was to be a saturation diver,” she says. “One of my instructors had photos of himself working in a nuclear plant, and it fascinated me from day one.”

Today, Richter is a nuclear-dive-program supervisor for a plant in Michigan and has consulted on programs in the United Arab Emirates and South Korea. “Nuclear diving is a mix of inland and industrial diving, which means we work in rivers, lakes and oceans, and in man-made intake tunnels, condensers, pools, tanks and other structures inside the plant,” Richter explains. “We work in open or closed systems, clean or dirty water, which is contaminated water that contains radioactive isotopes.”

But for all the eyebrow-raising nuclear diving might cause, Richter says it’s one of the safest forms of commercial diving. “There is a lot less expense-cutting and a lot more support from the industry to appropriately staff a job,” she says. However, that doesn’t mean it’s without risk.

she says. Overexposing a diver to radiation is highly unlikely. “That’s why we clean all areas prior to work, do surveys of the work area, and the divers carry probes so that they can survey each area themselves before they walk into them,” she explains. “We’re also remotely monitored by radiation-protection technicians who can get instant readings on the doses we’re receiving.”

Criminal Investigator

When bad guys want to cover up a crime, they often try to hide the evidence underwater.

says Michael Berry, founder and president of Underwater Criminal Investigators. “It’s my job to not only find these items, but also recover them in a way that preserves any fingerprints, DNA or other evidence that might be left behind.”

When Berry started working as a police diver, there was no standardized training. “Everybody was studying rescue diving, but the reality is, the majority of what we do is recovery,” he says. He went on to develop the first Underwater Criminal Investigator course for PADI; today, UCI is a leader in police search-and-recovery training.

Over the nearly 30 years he has worked as an underwater investigator, Berry has found himself diving in every type of environment imaginable, and has encountered his share of aggressive wildlife along the way.

The worst problem he encountered came from bacteria. “I was diving in a rock quarry that had turned to mud over the years, looking for stolen merchandise, and I came across a bag filled with the rotting corpses of puppies and kittens,” he says. “I ended up catching meningitis and was out of commission for months — it almost killed me.”

Deadhead Logger

For technical-diving instructor John Claytor, the swamps and river-beds of Florida and Georgia are a treasure trove of lost old-growth lumber.

His story starts in the late 19th century, when a logging boom was in full swing, harvesting old-growth trees and transporting them by barge along U.S. waterways.

Claytor says experts estimate around 10 percent of those logs were lost when barges carrying them sank. The low oxygen content at the bottom of these rivers and lakes preserved the wood, and the scarcity of the logs makes them valuable.

“I started diving around here in 1965, when I was in junior high, hunting for old bottles and Native American artifacts. Everywhere I dived, I’d see these logs all over the bottom, so I started keeping track,” Claytor says. “Years later, I had to screw my head on right and start making a living. I had a lot of MacGyver blood in me, so I went back to those old notes and started teaching myself how to pull those logs out and process them into lumber.”

Today, Claytor and his son bring the trees up, dry them out, cut them into lumber, and then use them to create custom projects like furniture and flooring.

But the work, called deadhead logging, is one of the most dangerous types of logging. Underwater crews have been featured on the History channel show Ax Men. “I try to block out the negative when I’m down there,” says Claytor. “I’ve dealt with every hazard you can think of, from poisonous-snake bites, alligators and 250-pound snapping turtles to getting caught in fishing lines and nets.”

However, he says the biggest risk is the logs themselves.

Safety/Croc Wrangler

South African divemaster Richard Bolter has a truly unpredictable and dangerous diving job in a rare niche of his own creation. “More people have gone to the moon than do what I do,” he says. That’s because he’s a fixer and safety diver who specializes in arranging and leading diving expeditions for underwater photographers who wish to go face to face with deadly, man-eating Nile crocodiles in Botswana’s famed Okavango Delta.

“I first got the idea while I was visiting the area with some friends on a bush holiday,” Bolter says. “During the summer months, the water gets crystal clear, and when I went under the water for the first time, I realized the crocs didn’t react the same as they do on the surface.” This led Bolter to establish certain rules of engagement that keep him and the divers that accompany him safe.

The most important rule: Never spend any time on the water’s surface, which sparks the crocs’ attention. “It’s military-style diving getting in and out of the water,” he says. Bolter also carefully vets any divers who want to hire him, and limits his services to professional documentary-film crews. “This environment is just not safe for tourist divers,” he says. “A company started bringing groups of tourists once, and soon a diver lost an arm to one of the crocs.”

Bolter says the key to successful encounters is cruising the canals, looking for crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks. “Usually they slip into the water when we pass by,” he says. “Then we jump in upstream and ride the current to where I predict they’ll settle on the bottom.” Underwater, the crocs are often placid, or at least have little interest in the divers. “They have very poor eyesight underwater, so they don’t really notice us, even up close,” he says. “But if you touch them anywhere near the side of the face, they attack.”

Offshore Saturation Diver

In the world of commercial divers, saturation diving is the endgame,” says Brian Lacey, a commercial and saturation diver based in Houston who freelances for oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico, and overseas in countries such as Russia, India and Indonesia. “It’s the job everyone wants, and the only reason any of us do it is the money — it’s like being in jail for a month at a time.”

That’s because saturation divers do their work while living inside a diving bell or compression chamber. As anyone with a scuba certification knows, a diver’s body absorbs nitrogen under pressure. Recreational divers minimize this with time limits and slow ascent rates to avoid the bends, but saturation divers go under pressure and stay there until their bodies becomes saturated with nitrogen and can’t absorb any more. Saturated divers can dive indefinitely at great depths, as long as they stay under pressure. When the job is done, they’re slowly decompressed inside the chamber.

“A standard run is 30 days down, with a two-man team taking turns, working five hours at a time in the water,” Lacey explains.

Although it’s boring, the saturation part of the job isn’t particularly dangerous. Lacey says the greatest risks arise when he’s actually on a dive, where his job is assembling or taking apart oil and gas equipment, such as oil rigs and pipelines. “Working with underwater cutting torches is probably the most dangerous thing we do,” he says. “As you cut, the torch puts of hydrogen gas, and if you happen to be under a ledge, the gas can pool, and a spark from your torch can cause a major explosion — I had a small explosion once that rocked my head so hard it knocked the defog soap from my mask plate into my eyes.”

Are you ready for a diving career? The proper training can prepare you for a job that offers a lot of adventure.

The Ocean Corporation is a diver-training facility in Houston. Its campus has a dive- tank training complex, two decompression chambers, a diving bell, and “nondestructive testing” inspection equipment. Ocean Corporation offers two training certification paths that lead to a number of commercial-diving career possibilities.

Ultimate Diver Training
This program prepares divers to perform inspections, repairs and support services for a
variety of projects or facilities including nuclear power plants, bridges, municipal wastewater facilities, dams, ship harbors, ports, water towers, resorts and cruise lines, and aquariums.

Nondestructive Testing Training
NDT inspectors use sophisticated technology and equipment to identify and diagnose flaws in steel and concrete without disrupting the integrity of a structure. Certified NDT technicians perform inspections all over the world, in nuclear power plants and oil refineries as well as on airplanes, oil rigs and more.

To learn more, visit oceancorp.com.

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What It’s Like To Be Caught in A Current Underwater

A Diver Struggles to Get Away from an Underwater Current

Steven P. Hughes


Diving in Belize took a scary turn for one diver.

Ambergris Caye was a short hop on a 12-seater from mainland Belize. Looking out from its eastern shore, my wife and I could see Belize Barrier Reef, a white vapor-trail line dividing the aqua lagoon from the darker cobalt-blue sea beyond.

In the lagoon fanking the reef is an area designated Hol Chan Marine Reserve, named by the Mayans for a channel that cuts through the reef. Shallow and teeming with wildlife, the reserve seemed an undemanding start to our dive vacation.

Visibility in Hol Chan’s aquariumlike habitat was excellent, so my dive-buddy wife was able to watch me from some distance as I wandered of toward the channel to take pictures.

When it was time to head back, she signaled me to join her. Swimming toward her, I became aware of the current for the first time.

I had been working against it all along but had been preoccupied taking pictures. The current was caused by an outgoing tide that fowed toward the cut behind me.

I struggled to make progress. At 73, I’m in great shape, but I started to tire.

I couldn’t overcome the surge as my legs began to give out. Worse yet, I soon started being pulled backward, facing the grim prospect of being torn out of control through the channel and out to sea. I was using air at an alarming rate. I had to do something quick.

As my wife watched helplessly, I dropped to the bottom, desperately clawing at the sand and grabbing fistfuls of turtle grass to pull myself along. I made progress one foot at a time, setting a course parallel to the reef and out of the main tidal stream.

Finally, I got far enough from the channel that I managed to escape the brunt of the current. I gave my wife a thumbs-up to ascend, and we bobbed up 30 feet to the surface, where we got the attention of the divemaster. With strong, young legs, he helped me back to the boat, exhausted but safe.

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