August 28, 2023

First North Coast “Dive into Science” Course Completed

By Morgan Murphy-Cannella, Reef Check Kelp Restoration Coordinator

DIS students and staff after a day of diving at Russian Gulch State Park

Reef Check’s Dive into Science program (DIS) has completed its first round of scuba training on the North Coast of California. With generous support from the CA State Coastal Conservancy Explore the Coast program, Reef Check’s staff instructors trained 11 participants in the NAUI scuba diver curriculum. Participants hailed from both the Sherwood Valley and Kashia Bands of Pomo Indians based in Sonoma and Mendocino County.

Dive into Science was specifically developed to increase diversity and reduce barriers to participating in Marine Science. Our goal is to guide participants through beginning, advanced, rescue and scientific diver training to position them for careers in marine resource management and empower them to participate in marine conservation efforts statewide. 

The class started with online learning from the NAUI curriculum where students learned about the gear, science, physiology, planning, and skills necessary to complete the field portion of the course. Additionally, students learned about oceanography, kelp forest ecology, kelp forest species and marine resource management. 

Once familiar with the basics of the NAUI scuba course, students were ready for the practical portion of this course which consisted of 3 weekends: one weekend at CV Starr Center pool in Fort Bragg for confined water practice, and two weekends in the ocean at Van Damme State Park and Caspar Cove. In the ocean, students practiced scuba skills, buoyancy, dive planning, and rescue skills. There were some challenges for each student, but with guidance from staff instructors each student was able to complete the required skills and build their confidence underwater.

DIS students Arella La Rose and Kimberly Carver and Reef Check staff instructor Morgan Murphy-Cannella pose pre-dive at Caspar Cove.

This newfound confidence afforded students the opportunity to observe sea life in its natural habitat, connect with the natural world in a way not previously possible, and witness first hand the intricacies of the ecosystem they have depended on for generations. This course has given each student the opportunity to explore the marine environment while increasing their knowledge about kelp forest ecosystems and marine science. Some students have plans to use these skills to expand the Environmental Departments within their tribe.

One student shared that she was very excited to be learning how to scuba dive because her grandmother taught her how to harvest abalone many years ago, and the ocean is a bonding place for her family. She explained that people in her family and community are unfamiliar with marine research and are largely unaware of the status of the marine ecosystem and of abalone fisheries. She is looking forward to being able to observe abalone in their habitat and get a first hand look at the status of the ecosystem where her family once used to spend a lot of time. She wants to be able to dive to share her thoughts, observations and experience with her community and family.

Another student shared with us that scuba diving has been an amazing support for them emotionally. They feel that when they are underwater that all their stresses and worries “wash away with the bubbles” and they feel renewed after a day of diving.

We are excited to continue working with this cohort to advance their diving skills, and to start new courses in 2024.

We would like to extend a special thank you to Seals Watersports and Sonoma Coast Divers for gear rentals and tanks, to the Kashia and Sherwood Valley Bands of Pomo Indians for their enthusiasm and dedication to this endeavor, and to the Coastal Conservancy for creating this opportunity for the North Coast community.