I’m sitting on the edge of the rock platform. I signal to my co-worker below that I am ready by pointing my fins down into the water. I quickly give my mask one more tug to ensure it’s secure. I hear the crowd count to three and then in unison they cry, “Jen, jump on in!” I grab my purple tail and I finally take the plunge. Yes, my purple tail, my orange horns and my yellow wings attached to my purple body suit dive altogether into the Strait of Georgia exhibit.
I am a diving sea monster, the scariest thing in this chilly habitat who is trying to help find other potentially hazardous animals that live off our coast. I can’t say I ever would have imagined diving in a sea dragon costume but it’s definitely one skill set to add to the diving resumé.
My career with diving starts with a passion for the ocean as a child. I like to think I have salt water running through my veins from growing up on boats and beaches on the West Coast all year long. What I wouldn’t have done to be able to have gills! I remember my mom telling me about how she learned to dive here off B.C.’s coast when she was in her 20s. She regaled me with her experiences as part of a dive team later in Kona, Hawaii. From that moment I knew I wanted to grow up and be a diver too.
Skip ahead to my university years when one of my professors reveals he offers a tropical ecology course in Cuba, where if you are a scuba diver, you can help do field work across the coral reef patches in a pristine marine protected area. I was sold. I did everything I could to become a dive researcher. I got certified, bought all my personal dive equipment, and even cut my hair so it wouldn’t get in the way of my mask on multiple daily dives. This was the absolute highlight of my university career: laying down quadrats and taking census of coral, sponge, and algae cover. I was so inspired I went on to complete a thesis paper on the relationship between fish and coral, based on the data collected during this field trip.
However I still wanted more. The truth was research is challenging and statistical analysis was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I really wanted to tell people about my experiences, what I learned in university and what I had seen firsthand. I wanted to let everyone know how diving was life changing and that there is still so much to discover in our oceans.
Fast forward again, and here I am floating in a Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre habitat brimming with aquatic diversity and on the other side of the acrylic is a crowd of bright eyed spectators waiting for a sea monster to make her next move. Diving in these public programs has allowed me to apply my experience in an educational, and sometimes silly way, to inspire others. The ocean captivates all of us. It is a privilege to be one of the divers walking through the galleries; you feel like you wear a badge of honour. The parents point us out to their children, the children stare in amazement, and everyone rushes to the acrylic to get their “diver high-five” photo at the end of the program.
While not everyone may have the chance to experience diving I hope that I may be able to spark one person’s interest to one day take the plunge themselves. That in itself will be worth it.
Blog post by Jennifer Derwojed, assistant manager of Interpretive Delivery at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. When she is not dressed like a sea monster, you can find Jennifer in our galleries interacting with guests and leading programming with our marine mammal trainers.