By: SJ Byce, Intern Coordinator
On your mark, get set, GO!! This race had no announcer to call out commands. Instead, our Dive Safety Officer completed a series of silent, but enthusiastic underwater hand motions, which all participants interpreted to mean go and our race was off.
This underwater relay race was really a test of buoyancy control, an essential skill for a scuba diver. To obtain neutral buoyancy in the water one must add air or release air from their Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD). Then, by regulating the amount of air you take in on a given breath, you can fine tune your buoyancy even further. In highly trafficked dive sites tourists with poor buoyancy control can cause noticeable damage to the reef by kicking coral or even crashing into the reef itself and potentially destroying colonies of coral 50 or more years in the making.
Students at CIEE Bonaire are held to an extremely high standard for buoyancy control and from the moment they enter the water they are expected to hover off of the ocean floor and never disturb the ground. After a bit of underwater buoyancy practice, CIEE dive instructors set out the objectives for the race:
Step 1) Fill an upside down plastic cup with air from your regulator.
Step 2) Swim straight with your buddy along a transect line while holding your cup of air.
Not too bad so far, but Step 3 was a challenge:
Step 3) Take your regulator out of your mouth. Blow bubbles until you pick up a spoon with your mouth from the bottom of the ocean without spilling your cup of air.
If students successfully completed Step 3 they could resume breathing from their regulators, replace the spoon upright on the bottom of the ocean, and swim to the end of the transect line.
Step 4) Add your cup of air to the bright orange lift bag.
Step 5) Race back to start and repeat.
The team with the most air in their orange lift bag at the end of the race won. But if at any point a student touched the ground or broke the surface of the ocean, the instructor dumped all of the air out of their lift bag and they had to start over.
The most humorous struggles were watching students bobbing a tongue’s length above the spoon, while blowing bubbles, but unable to fall down the last 2in. Or after finally reaching the spoon, they realized that all of the air had dumped out of their upside down cup during spoon-bobbing process. By far the best strategy was the grab and go: a fast swim just barely above the ocean floor, grabbing the spoon as you swim over it and replacing it back all in one go.
In the chaos of spilled air cups and emptied lift bags, I’m not sure which buddy team actually won the relay race. However the race itself turned learning into a game and all students gained proficiency in underwater buoyancy control. At CIEE Bonaire this is our true mission: to provide outstanding educational opportunities for students in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation. If you have ever gone scuba diving, help to conserve our coral reefs by being a responsible diver. Swim as if the entire ocean bottom was fire coral so that you never disrupt a single polyp with your fins. The coral will thank you.