The Life of a Georgia Aquarium Diver

Beluga Whales watch on through the glass at the Georgia Aquarium. It should be noted that they were totally not into the lecture AT ALL. (Photo by Bonnie Heath)

Last night I had the opportunity to attend Science on Tap, the first in a new series of lectures at the Georgia Aquarium here in Atlanta. This particular presentation was led by head divers Jeff Reid and Mauritius Bell, who provided a fascinating insight into their professional lives.

Jeff became interested in diving while living in Wyoming of all places and, after attending commercial diving school, found himself in freezing Alaskan waters as part of a commercial salvage team. This entailed living on a dismal-looking barge with 30 other guys, reclaiming beached vessels and diving down to perform dock and fishing boat repairs. To give you an idea of what a day on the job might entail, Jeff recounted a job where he had to spend hours cutting heaps of tangled fishing line out of a ship's propeller with a 10,000-degree cutting torch.

Mauritius' career path to the Georgia Aquarium began with Atlanta-area YMCA scuba classes. Eventually, he mastered and taught diving, technical diving, free diving, scientific diving and even cave diving (one of his passions).

The two men provided an excellent overview of the sort of in-house diving that a job at the world's largest aquarium entails, such as animal care and rescue, tank maintenance and repairs. During the Georgia Aquarium's first couple of years, most of their work revolved around getting everything up and running, but these days they also get to spend an increasing amount of time (currently three months out of the year) working in the field -- which is to say the actual oceans or the great lakes.

In conjunction with such groups as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Jeff and Mauritius have participated in such dive efforts as inspecting the possible overharvest of Gorgonia (a hard coral used in anti-wrinkle creams), marine sanctuary cleanup and submerged artifact research. The latter is essentially underwater archaeology, concerned with preservation and study of shipwrecks and submerged aircraft.

You can read about upcoming Science on Tap lectures here, and it's quite a deal if you want to support the Georgia Aquarium and learn more about the science behind operations there. Plus, when else will you get such a good chance to sip a glass of wine and snack on hummus while a beluga whale eyes you through the glass?

Jeff and Mauritius covered far more ground than I can relate in a single blog post. Come back Monday and we'll look at one of the more dangerous invasive species to swim its way into the waters of the Atlantic.

Dive in for more at How Cave Diving Works How Deep Sea Rescue Works How Scuba Works How could a cat scuba dive? Josh and Chuck swim with a whale shark

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.