Only about a quarter of our planet is covered in land. The rest is covered in water. As a scuba diver, the other three-quarters of the globe is your oyster (or giant clam, weighing up to 230kg). Divers get to explore inner space, the aquatic realm, the space beneath the seas. SCUBA diving can take place as long as there is enough water for you to submerge. That can be incredibly cold lakes and quarries in the Midwest, clear and cold springs in Idaho, hot springs in Utah, kelp forests off Southern California, reefs off of the Florida coast. Or it can be something further afield.
As a certified open water diver, you can dive to a maximum depth of sixty feet. That’s close to the height of a six-storey building. Completing your advanced open water training, you’d be trained to dive to a maximum depth of one-hundred feet, a ten-storey building. With deep diver training, at the recreational level, you can dive down to one-hundred and thirty feet, a thirteen-storey building. The next time you’re walking on the street, look at the buildings around you and think about what that depth means.
For most fresh-water environments, the visibility typically isn’t that great. That means that light isn’t penetrating as far due to suspended particulate matter. At some sites, there might be algae in the first ten to twenty feet resulting in limited visibility. Below that, there might not be any algae, but much of the light is gone because it was absorbed by the algae at shallower depths.
Tropical diving! Warmer water typically has fewer nutrients, so there isn’t as much plankton (algae/phytoplankton or zooplankton, the microscopic animals that feed on phytoplankton), so light can penetrate to great depths. With minimal particulate matter in the water, visibility can stretch to well over 100 feet. You can see, virtually, forever. One interesting aspect of the warmer water is that we find corals. Coral can be thought of as a fairly broad term covering the coral animal (yes, animal), the symbiotic algae (vegetable) and the reef skeleton made of calcium carbonate, secreted by the coral animal (mineral). Coral reefs are home to over a quarter of all known marine organisms, and a significant number of marine animals spend some part of their life on the coral reef. With all that going on, there’s no wonder that divers love to dive on coral reefs.
Coral reefs are found around the world, but they are restricted by water clarity, temperature and salinity (amongst other factors). Most of them are found near the equator (warmer, clearer water). A small fraction of these reefs are found in the Atlantic, mostly around the Caribbean Sea. The rest are in the Indo-Pacific region, making that a prime attraction for diving.
Divers have amazing travel opportunities to see coral reefs. Beyond that, though, are diving opportunities that extend beyond the tropics. If you’re not keen on cold water, brace yourself. Diving at the polar extremes provides a view into incredibly unique ecosystems. Of course, diving in those extremes requires additional training and equipment (e.g., dry suits and ice-diver training) to keep you warm and safe.
Don’t like cold water? Other than the tropics with their warm water, there are some freshwater sites that might interest you. In the Intermountain West, we have hot springs. Many are small, but some are large enough to dive. Imagine diving in water that is 95F/35C in the middle of winter. You don’t need a drysuit or a wetsuit, a simple swimsuit and rashguard will do it. Maybe you’ll need to plan your exposure protection for when you’re out of the water rather than in it.
So far, I’ve talked about diving environments. What about things to see while you’re threre? Coral reefs, with their abundant aquatic life are truly amazing. Polar ice dives have amazingly clear water and unique aquatic life. Hot springs provide warm or hot-water diving in unusual places. But maybe there is more. What about something historic? Wreck diving is one of the most popular diving activities around the world. Why? Because you get a glimpse into history. The protected wrecks of Truk Lagoon are a prime example. A significant portion of the Japanese fleet in World War II were sunk there. In some cases, human remains can be found. There are extreme wreck dives, requiring technical training beyond recreational limits, such as the wrecks in the Marshall Islands from the nuclear tests conducted in the 1950’s.
Does a wreck dive have to involve a boat or ship. Other man-made structures that have been sunk or flooded can be considered a wreck. Some fresh water reservoirs have been created by flooding small towns. Imagine diving over houses of people displaced by making a reservoir to feed a bigger city downstream. World War II wasn’t the only conflict to leave us with wrecks. The Cold War did that, too. There are flooded nuclear missile silo complexes around the US that are now dive sites.
In a nutshell, SCUBA divers have amazing opportunities to explore parts of the world that non-divers can never access. Adventure abounds. Why are you sitting at a desk reading this, when you could be out diving or learning how to dive, and experiencing the adventure?