HSU’s scientific diving program is an opportunity for any student to get their face underwater and see one of the most spectacular coasts in the world
Ten-foot-high waves crash onto the Mendocino Coast. The rocky shore does its best to quell the energy of the waves but the swell is relentless. A group of suited divers slip on their fins and walk toward the frigid water. Students hold their masks and take the plunge.
Students in Humboldt State’s Scientific Diving Program were tense with anticipation, but they were not nervous. This was the last dive of the semester and they felt safe and prepared. The conditions were challenging but not overwhelming. Plus, they had Jessica Doyle and the Dive Program leadership at their side. They were stoked.
“The students were brave their first time,” Doyle said. “At 100 dives, I knew the conditions were bad. There was very low visibility. Regardless, the beginners were still excited about seeing even a sea star.”
Doyle is passionate about diving. She is studying Environmental Interpretation and Education, but the dive minor opens new doors of opportunity. Doyle gets to help teach all the classes, which go on weekend long dive trips down to Van Damme State Park. Divers in the program are involved in research ranging from studying the impacts of sea urchins eating kelp to monitoring marine protected areas up and down the north coast to counting fish and plants.
“The Humboldt Dive Program is very prestigious. That’s like getting a law degree from Harvard. And any student can participate!”
To teach students about the HSU Dive Program, Doyle helped put on Ocean Night on May 1, 2019 at the Arcata Theater Lounge. It was a night of fundraising, underwater video and picture presentations and raffles. All the money raised went to the diving program to support their future trips. Doyle and the Dive Program taught attendees about the dive program and shared some really neat videos from recent dives.
Doyle said she wants to make it clear the HSU Dive Program is open to everyone. She said certification and education from HSU Dive is a big deal. McKenna Rayburn took advantage of the program two years ago, changing her major to Oceanography and jumping into the HSU Dive minor. Both of the divers had a lot of good things to say about the program.
“Generally diving is not a common experience,” Doyle said. “The Humboldt Dive Program is very prestigious. That’s like getting a law degree from Harvard. And any student can participate! We want everyone to know you don’t need to be in marine biology to be a part of the dive program.”
“The dive program is a great experience,” Rayburn said. “Diving builds character and pushes limits. Once I am under the water, I feel calm. After I get my buoyancy figured out, being in the water is my favorite feeling. It’s glorious.”
The HSU Dive Program comes with a lifetime diving certification. Equipped with this certification, the opportunities for underwater exploration are endless. Diving Safety Officer Richard Alvarez helps organize and approve all dive plans and research missions. Alvarez said the HSU Dive program prepares their divers for any conditions they may face worldwide.
“Diving here is super challenging,” Alvarez said. “We have low visibility and are constantly exposed to the elements. The program takes people and prepares them for a lot. We are training in rigorous conditions. The main theme of the program is safety.”
Alvarez said it was important to prepare divers for an emergency. He said the divers in the program practiced safety and were highly skilled. This ensures they do high quality science. Alvarez said it can be easy to get distracted from the basics when counting fish, so rigorous training was necessary.
Rayburn has not taken the scientific diving course yet, but said she was looking forward to it. In the program, she will get to how to identify fish and plants underwater. She will also have the opportunity to collect her own data for any project she wants to do, as long as Alvarez approves it.
“When HSU students dive at other spots, they get really excited,” Alvarez said. “The stoke to get in the water is enthusiasm. Diving the north coast can be challenging but it’s worth all the effort. The coast is phenomenal. We have the most beautiful coast. Diving here is mind blowing.”