Diving Green for Science

By Sean Sheldrake

EPA’s Seattle dive van loaded up with a full ton of dive gear—plus a bicycle.

In previous blog posts, we’ve shared how EPA diving scientists support cleanups in the nation’s waterways.  In this post, I’ll talk about how we are working to “dive green” while undertaking EPA’s mission.

Getting On Site

Getting on site to conduct a scientific survey usually involves using some kind of vehicle.  So, we do it as “greenly” as possible:

  • Our gear and our divers like to travel together! The dive van gets virtually the same mileage whether it carries one diver or four – travelling together saves tax dollars.
  • Van pooling this way lowers our environmental footprint – fewer emissions of air pollutants protect the air we breathe and there’s less pollution to wash into our waterways and ocean ecosystem when it rains.
  • Did you know most brake pads contain metals that hurt fish?  Fewer vehicles on the road also lowers the amount of pollution from brake pads getting into the environment and washing into the ocean ecosystem.
  • And we try to be creative – one of our divers bicycled to and from the boat launch to a friend’s house! You can see the bike tucked into the van in the photo above.

No American Idle

EPA vessel at anchor with divers below.

Whether it’s our van or our vessel, we cut the engine whenever possible. After all, what’s good for kids riding on school buses is good for diving scientists carrying out EPA’s mission.  Many of our van drivers are surprised to learn that it’s more efficient to turn the engine off than let it idle for even 30 seconds!

Reducing engine use is important for our vessel, too, since it’s mainly powered by diesel engines, which can generate large amounts of particulates as well as sulfur and nitrous oxides. Anchoring and turning off the engine helps keep the air and our waterways cleaner.

Diving Scientists Need to Eat

EPA diver with a wireless communication unit.

Once out on the vessel divers are a hungry bunch! We pack meals and plenty of snacks, and carefully separate out all compostable material and recyclables to bring back to the lab for proper disposal. On one recent trip on the Elwha, our crew kept some 60 pounds of trash out of the landfill!

“Scotty, I Need More Power!”

Our underwater lights, communications systems, and scientific equipment run on a lot of ‘juice,’ so to cut waste we use rechargeables.   Just one diver using a wireless communications unit to talk to their buddy diving and to their “tenders” topside can go through up to forty AA type batteries per week! Rechargeable batteries that conk out after a few hundred charges get added to the recyclables we take back to the lab rather than sent to a landfill where they might leach heavy metals.

EPA divers make a positive impact on the ocean environment in the work that we do, and the green way we do it.  It’s also a positive example that we hope inspires divers and diving scientists elsewhere!  What else can you think of to reduce our footprint?

Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at facebook.com/EPADivers.

About the author: Sean Sheldrake is part of the Seattle EPA Dive unit and is also a project manager working on the Portland Harbor cleanup in Oregon.  He serves on the EPA diving safety board, responsible for setting EPA diving policy requirements.

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