By Matthew Colip
Being an EPA Scientific Diver is a lot like being an astronaut; you’re trained with a specific skill-set to “float” through an often unpredictable environment with the purpose of gathering data to advance science and help people. For me, becoming an EPA Scientific Diver has expanded my scientific capabilities to work in an environment that occupies 70% of the planet and that we all depend on: water.
EPA’s Scientific Diving Program can be traced back over 40 years to a group of divers formed to support the need for diving expertise in contaminated waters for the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, the predecessor to EPA.
Today, EPA has scientific diving units at strategic locations across the country conducting scientific work for a myriad of federal, state, and local programs. EPA scientific divers work in both marine and freshwater environments.
For example, EPA recently conducted a freshwater mussel survey in the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. The divers conducted 12 dives and reported information on the habitat conditions at the river bottom to the surface via wireless communication. In addition, live and dead mussel shells were collected for species identification. Ultimately, the information they collected will add to the data Pennsylvania is gathering on the ecological health of the Susquehanna River.
Since joining EPA as a biologist, I’ve wanted to use my recreational SCUBA diver experience to become a member of the Agency’s Scientific Diving Program. Scientific diver trainees must successfully complete EPA’s Scientific Diver Training Program, which emphasizes safety and includes extensive safety training and drills.
Studying the physics of water pressure and its effects on human physiology, the proper use and handling of oxygen-enriched air, and the unique challenges of diving in polluted waters help us learn important concepts that prevent accidents.
In addition to general safe diving concepts, EPA scientific diver trainees also learn skills to gather data and survey underwater environments. We learn how to use underwater cameras, electronic communications equipment, conduct a basic benthic survey, sampling techniques for water and sediment, as well as underwater navigation and sampling site survey methods for zero-visibility diving.
Simply stated, EPA’s Scientific Diver Training Program transforms recreational divers who are scientists, engineers, law enforcement personnel, and/or academics, into EPA-certified scientific divers who use underwater environments as their sampling laboratory.
Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at: facebook.com/EPADivers.
About the Author: Matthew Colip works as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Enforcement Officer in EPA Mid-Atlantic Region’s Water Protection Division, NPDES Enforcement Branch.