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.