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Winning Article for 2017 by Terence Foxx

How Technology Helps Scuba Diving to Expand its Reach

Drowning is where we would be without the technological advances we have used to enhance scuba diving. The world’s record a person can free-dive is 702 feet deep on a single breath. With scuba gear, we can extend this depth to a total of 1,090 feet deep. Thanks to our cultural adaptations we can breathe underwater, we can see clearly under the ocean, and we can swim more efficiently than ever before. Over the years many inventions have come and gone to aid in the quest that we all desire to achieve: The exploration of our ocean.

The device that allows us to be able to breathe underwater is the scuba tank. Created in 1942, during the World War II era and German’s occupation of France, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan designed the first successful open-circuit scuba tank, also known as the Aqua-Lung. And in June 1943, he successfully tested his invention on the coast of the Rivera.  Originally, his idea for the Aqua-Lung came from the discoveries of Captain Yves Le Prier, a pioneer who created an open-circuit compressed air device. However, Captain Yves could not control the continuous flow of air in the device, which limited the amount of time it could be used. To answer this problem, Emile Gagnan developed a demand regulator. Originally, the regulator was designed for the benefit of cars and jets, however when Jacques came into contact with it, he modified it to be able to regulate air and made it the key to his success. Without this device, we would have never been able to make mind-blowing discoveries about the past, such as the Lost Kingdom of Cleopatra. This device has revolutionized the way we are able to interact with our surroundings.

What good would it be to breathe underwater if we could not see underwater either? The piece of equipment that allows us to see visibly under the waves are the famous goggles. The first appearance of goggles ever being used on record was in the 14th century. During this time, the Persians would polish tortoise shells and use them for protection as they dove down to collect pearls. However, even though they have been used since the 14th century, the first official goggles were not patented until 1916, by C.P Troopman. Due to technological enhancements over the centuries, goggles have been reshaped over and over again. In the 18th century, the Polynesians were the first to use glass in the eyewear. In the late 1960s, many people began to custom make their own pair out of plastic cups and elastic. And now, goggles in the 21st century are made out of polycarbonate. Without these, it probably would have been impossible for Thomas Burgess to become the 1st man to swim the English Channel in 1911 and for Gertrude Ederle to become the 1st woman to swim the English Channel, in 1926. Nowadays, goggles are an accessory with ever swimwear bought. Now, with this enhanced vision we can explore the depths of the ocean with a clear view.

To be prepared for the ocean environment and the dangers that could be lurking beneath the waters, the people exploring would need a suit. Something to protect against the cold temperature, the crushing pressure, and the dangerous animals would be essential to the exploration. Thanks to our state-of-the-art scuba suits, we are fully capable of all those things. But like any invention, it needed room to grow overtime. The first modern scuba suit was created in 1952 by Hugh Bradner, and over time it evolved to incorporate a thin sheet of nylon on the cover.  These suits are made of neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber. It traps water just underneath the surface of the suit to act as an insulator, for diving into cooler waters. Since 1952, this has been the most effective way of diving into waters between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius. But what suit would be complete without the shoes? In other words, the flippers are a crucial part of the suit. Unfortunately, the flippers aren’t designed to insulate water like the suit is; however, it is designed to aid in precision and increase momentum. The flippers, also known as, swimfins are actually a concept of Benjamin Franklin, who created his own pair out of wood by the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts. But the modern swimfins are a creation of Louis de Corlieu, a Frenchman who served in the navy. Not only are we learning to co-exist with our natural surroundings, but we are learning to adapt with them. 

With equipment such as the innovative Aqua-Lung, goggles, flippers, and insulating wet suits, the exploration skills and research abilities of man-kind have no doubt sky rocketed. However, these enhancements are limited to the human body and its capabilities. What about what it isn’t capable of? As we know, the ocean stretches deep into the earth for hundreds of miles. The human body is not capable of withstanding hundreds of miles worth of water pressure. But a drone is. The deepest depth a drone has ever dived before is 10,902 meters. This was achieved by the Nereus drone, in May 2009, while investigating the Mariana Trench. This drone is the second in history to make it to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. And while there, this drone was able to collect liquid and rock specimens. Without this drone, there would have been no way to tell what was lying at the bottom of our ocean floor. But now we know, a whole new world lurks below. A world without sunlight, also known as, the Midnight Zone. Home to a new variety of creatures, each equipped with their own adaptation to survive the deep dark depths.

These drones are exactly what new technology can offer for the marine biology field. It offers a safer way to investigate and navigate the marine world. It is a revolutionary method that is capable of researching, exploring, observing, and collecting samples all on its own. Working in unison with the drones and manned submarines has more than doubled the pace of research. It is because technology is able to take that extra step that we as humans are biologically incapable of taking.

A bit of personal experience, I graduated from high school a full year ago. And for my efforts, I was rewarded with a trip to the luxurious island, Aruba. It was an honor to be there, surrounded by such beautiful water and culture. The exotic animals there, both marine and mainland, were breathtaking. As a future marine biologist, that trip was awe-inspiring for me. Because now, I have insight on what my field of study looks-like in person. There was this one part of the trip that not only gave me insight but a hands-on-experience of what my filed would be like. Off the coast of Aruba there is a small island that is known as Morgan Island, and it is a huge tourist attraction because on top of it is a theme park. My aunt payed for me, my mother, my sister, and her to go on an underwater helmet walk through a man-made field of abandoned vehicles.  They had specifically arranged this as a way of telling me to begin my first steps into the marine field. Quite the steps we were taking too. I never imaged that I would be holding a starfish and a sea cucumber a week after my graduation. I am truly grateful to that experience because it just showed me how much I love connecting with the water and the sea creatures that live within it. There have been many times that I thought I would have succeeded because I don’t have the will to go on. I let my doubt and concerns swallow the passionate drive inside of me to become the scientist I know I want to be.

Despite our lack of naturally acquired resources to enjoy the luxurious water as many other marine creatures do, this difference does not stop us from enjoy the beautiful ocean water and the life it has to offer. Many of these advances have been released to the public as entertainment. Nowadays goggles are now sold as an accessory with almost every other swim-wear. Scuba Tanks are purchasable by the public to go diving into the local waters. And resorts now offer tourists a chance to tour underwater coral reefs in local submarines. The technological advancements that we have made can be used for more than just research purposes. Goggles can be used by children who want a shield for their eyes for when they go diving. And the new and improved Aqua-Lung can be used by a fisherman who just needed to collect mussels. And the suits can be used by soldiers in the navy who need basic training equipment for what to do during a search and rescue mission. There are many other needs and desires for this technology other than research.

By Terence Foxx, Winner of the DeepBlueDiving.org Scholarship in 2017