Diving Headfirst Against Pollution: An Introduction to the Divers of the EPA

epa diver The employees of the EPA do more than regulate the emissions in your car–some of them take direct measures toward protecting the health of American waterways.

Since the agency’s inception in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency has maintained a scientific diving program. The first diving teams were based in Seattle and Gulf Breeze, Florida, to support EPA research, environmental monitoring and emergency response efforts.

Today, the EPA’s diving program operates out of nine offices across the country, and conducts hundreds of scientific missions annually. In fact, each of the nine teams of EPA divers averages over 100 logged missions each year in all varieties of aquatic habitats, ranging from freshwater lakes, rivers, and quarries, to brackish estuaries and the salty waters of the open ocean. The responsibilities of EPA divers are eclectic, ranging from monitoring the health of fragile underwater ecosystems like sea grass, coral reefs, and kelp forests, to inspecting the contents of waste discharge from seafood processing plants and mapping illegal dumping sites.

In addition to the Scientific Dive Unit, the EPA boasts an Environmental Response Dive Team specifically trained for missions in polluted waters. Members of this unit are tasked with conducting the scientific duties of normal EPA divers (such as data collection and research) while in potentially hazardous conditions, such as at the sites of oil spills. Ultimately, this division helps the EPA advance cleanup operations in American waterways by gathering information on environmental health that can’t be obtained from the remote safety of the deck of a research vessel.

Though EPA divers operate and support primarily within EPA programs, this doesn’t restrict them from working outside of the agency. The EPA has reciprocity agreements with a plethora of organizations across the country, ranging from other government agencies at the federal and state level (such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries) to universities and private-sector businesses (such as the University of Washington and the Oregon Coast Aquarium).

Diving isn’t the only part of the job, however. The EPA divers are actually comprised of permanent EPA employees from across the agency, and aren’t hired specifically for their diving work. Though most divers are trained in fields such as oceanography and marine ecology, the program employs divers with a wide spectrum of backgrounds and experience.

For those looking to become part of this program, there are a few prerequisites. Physical fitness, swimming ability, experience with field surveys, SCUBA certification and relevance to their current job are all factors considered when accepting new EPA divers. Once accepted, new hires receive rigorous training that includes diving in polluted water and underwater science to better prepare them for work in the field.

If this job sounds appealing to you, be sure to break out your diving helmet and brush up on your mathematical skills. Having a background in a scientific discipline or engineering, in addition to experience as a professional diver, are critical to improving your odds for consideration for a position in this specialized department.

Aqua Air Industries is a worldwide supplier of commercial diving equipment, complete saturation systems and ancillary equipment. We design and construct safe and efficient diving and saturation equipment to meet the demands of the growing diving industry.


Take Your Scuba Diving Deeper with Underwater Metal Detecting

underwater metal detecting Looking for a way to take your SCUBA diving to the next level? Many divers are exploring the exciting hobby of underwater metal detecting.

Underwater metal detecting and SCUBA diving are a pretty great pair. While you’re out diving and looking at all the amazing undersea life, your hands are basically free. Taking a metal detector along allows you to add another element to your dive that could even help you find sunken treasure!

There Are Fewer Metal Detectorists in the Ocean

Metal detectorists are even taking notice and getting their SCUBA diver’s certification so they too can ...


Sven Can See Anti-Fog Review

Fogging masks are an annoyance that every diver has had to deal with. Proper application of spit, anti-fog, whatever and care to not avoid the delicate layer of slime before or during the dive preoccupies too much time for me.

I recently received an anti-fog product sample called Sven Can See (I do not know who Sven is). The product is intended for more uses than just diving, but obviously that will be my focus here. Sven Can See

The application itself is quite simple: spray the dry lens once and use your finger to spread it around to cover the lens (sounds ...


Why Does a Mask Fog?

The crystal clear water feels warm on a beautiful sunny day. You look around at the stunning island scenery before you slowly descend below the calm surface. Excitement grows as you anticipate the vivid colors and active sealife.

You continue descending and begin to make out the shape of the reef. This is going to be a great dive...

Suddenly, your mask fogs up. Uh-oh.

"Did I rub on the drops?"

"Did I spit with enough phlegm?"

"Maybe I rinsed twice instead of once?"

"Did I rinse too aggressively?"

"Did I turn in a circle twice while rubbing my stomach ...


How Do You Clear a Scuba Mask?

After breathing, there is perhaps no skill more fundamental than mask clearing. While other skills, such as gear assembly, are a requisite part of getting in the water, they technically could be done by someone else (although this is not recommended). Mask clearing, however, is a solo skill, and the inabiility to perform it will easily ruin a dive.

Once mastered, this is a skill you will use immensely. I frequently perform mask clearing not just when water leaks in, but also when I insufficiently apply defog. Mask fog can ruin an otherwise good dive, but with, ahem, fluid mask ...


Spanish For Diving

My wife and I have a modest use of the Spanish language that we used this past week in Cozumel, Mexico. It's always fun being able to interact with locals in their native language.

A big hurdle for beginners is simply learning vocabulary. As such, it is commonly recommended to utilize some sort of flashcard system for learning new words. Many experts, however, recommend a smart flashcard system, like those built around spaced repetition. My personal favorite in this category is Anki, but there are a others out there if you look around. You can read more about spaced ...


Dive Experience Through Deliberate Practice

One of the pleasures of running this site is that I get to hear from a variety of divers all over the world. At times these divers disagree with me, and I certainly appreciate hearing the different point-of-views these fellow enthusiasts have---even when I think they are wrong! ;)

In a previous article, I said the following:

The level of experience you quickly achieve moving through the professional ranks comes along with a level of comfort in the water. This level comes much quicker than just through regular diving.

I have heard some disagreement with this statement and it has been ...


Decorating Scuba Gear with Paint Markers

The other day I wrote about decorating scuba equipment in an environmentally sound way.

Reader Marwah, who asked the original question, sent me an update. Apparently permanent markers washed off her fins, but paint markers worked great. There are two things I took from this:

  • The importance of testing out your paint before you do a lot of fancy artwork. It may wash right off. Permanent markers worked well for my rubbery fins, but didn't stick on Marwah's more smooth, plastic fins (as I guess they are).

  • Paint markers are a fantastic option that I didn't think ...


Decorating Scuba Equipment

Reader Marwah asks,

"I wanted to know if you know of paints or markers or other mediums I can use on my gear that wouldn't be harmful to the coral or marine life. I want to put elaborate, colourful stuff on my fins to begin with but I don't want to do it at the expense of underwater life. If you know of anything I could use please let me know."

Great question! Fortunately, these days paints and markers are fairly safe for the environment and getting better every year. The main things you want to avoid are ...


DVD Cases: Redux

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The possibility of PADI switching to slim DVD cases spurred some readers to comment. Apparently I'm not the only one frustrated ...