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NURP provides technical diver training to the National Marine Sanctuary Program

This story entered on 10th Mar, 2008 11:04:48 AM PST

NOAA’s Undersea Research Program (NURP), National Undersea Research Center (NURC) at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW) supported a two weeks training for four scientists from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM). With over 95 percent of the PMNM located in water deeper than 130 feet, an understanding of the Monument’s resources requires the use and development of methods to reach the depths beyond those of traditional SCUBA diving limited to 130 feet.

Participating Monument scientist included Research Coordinator Randy Kosaki, Maritime Archaeologist Kelly Gleason, Research Specialist Elizabeth Keenan and Field Operations Specialist Joe Chojnacki lead by Instructors Doug Kesling and Scott Fowler at the NURC facility in Key Largo, Florida. Technical training focused on skill sets to establish the Monument’s capacity to execute missions in what Kosaki describes as the “no man’s land between the realms of SCUBA diving and submersible diving research expeditions.” Scientists working in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands see this range between 130-300 feet as the new frontier for coral reef research, as this critical reef habitat extends as deep as 300 feet in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

In addition to the dive training operations, the mission provided the opportunity for all Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) technical divers to come together at the NURC Key Largo facility. Maritime Heritage Coordinator Tane Casserley, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Deputy Superintendent Russ Green, and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Research Coordinator Greg McFall joined daily dive operations for proficiency technical dives and the documentation of two deep shipwreck sites in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Casserley said, “These proficiency dives have given NOAA maritime archaeologists an unprecedented opportunity to survey the shipwreck Northern Light, which now lies in 190 feet of water in FKNMS but previously had a long history as a freighter on the Great Lakes. The Northern Light’s sister ship, the Grecian, is now a shipwreck within the Thunder Bay NMS, and this survey has allowed NOAA the chance to study the level of preservation of two similar ships in totally different environments.”

The NURC Key Largo technical dive training, proficiency dives, and maritime archaeological documentation from February 18-29 provided the first opportunity for all ONMS technical divers to converge and discuss the potential for future partnership and collaboration for deep diving efforts in the Sanctuaries.

Greg McFall, who is taking a lead on formalizing a technical diving component within the sanctuary program, says that “the level of expertise and professional training provided by NURC/UNCW is unrivaled in its scope and capacity to enable researchers to safely reach depths beyond normal diving limits. There are many questions related to the resources protected by Sanctuaries which can be answered by gaining access to these depths; NURC/UNCW provides the mission critical capacity to make it possible.”

In addition to the Monument team, the training in Key Largo became a launching point for the development of a larger team within the Sanctuary Office to address the need for a deep diving contingent in the Sanctuaries.

Contact information
Name: Thomas A Potts
Tel: (910) 962-2442

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Updated: June 4, 2008