From Snorkelling to Deep Diving – An Exploration of the Underwater World 30 meters deep

From Snorkelling to Deep Diving An Exploration of the Underwater World 30 meters deep

By: Dani Julius (NRF-SAIAB – Groen Sebenza Research Intern)

Danielle Julius, affectionately known as ‘Dani’, is more than just a friend to the fish; she’s a passionate explorer of the ocean depths. Hailing from Cape Town, her affinity for the sea began with snorkelling adventures. Little did she anticipate that three decades later, she would be diving into the underwater world of the ocean’s mysteries.

“Before embarking on this journey, my underwater explorations were limited to snorkelling, barely scratching the surface at five meters,” shared Dani.

Thanks to the Groen Sebenza Internship Programme at NRF-SAIAB, which prioritises the training and development of its interns, Dani seized the opportunity to attend a commercial diving course conducted by the University of Cape Town’s Research Dive Unit in January 2024. This transformational experience was made possible through the programme’s funding that is directed at supporting interns’ skills and development training.

But what exactly is commercial diving? It encompasses professional divers undertaking underwater tasks for various commercial purposes, including scientific research. In this field, scientific divers play a crucial role in observing and collecting data in aquatic environments, performing tasks ranging from visual surveys to sample collection.

The commercial diving course Dani undertook was comprehensive, blending theoretical knowledge with practical applications. Before delving into practical exercises, participants underwent dive medical assessments and swim tests to ensure their fitness and water proficiency.

Dani described the practical component as; “A thrilling journey, involving pool exercises, ocean dives at different depths (at 10, 20, and 30 meters), diving in a quarry with specific objectives, including night dives. The experience wasn’t without its risks, though, Dani said. She acknowledged the heightened dangers inherent in underwater work, including decompression sickness, hyper- and hypothermia, equipment malfunctions, and navigation challenges.

Transitioning from snorkelling to scuba diving was an intimidating yet rewarding experience for Dani. Despite her anxieties when she started the course, the instructors prioritised safety, and provided guidance throughout the entire experience. “It felt magical to witness life in the ocean up to 30 meters deep – in its most natural form, something I was only ever able to see on National Geographic or in books. The instructors made each dive eventful, taking us exploring iconic shipwrecks within Table Bay and False Bay.”

As an aspiring marine science technician, Dani recognised the importance of obtaining her commercial diving qualification with the encouragement of her mentor, Dr Matt Parkinson. Her achievement holds particular significance at NRF-SAIAB, where commercial divers are key for conducting some aspects of aquatic research. Dani’s attainment of a Commercial Class 5 Divers license marks a milestone as the only female to join the team of three male divers at NRF-SAIAB, diversifying an otherwise male-dominated field.

Aquatic biodiversity institutions like NRF-SAIAB rely on skilled divers like Dani to facilitate some aspects of its research work, from deploying acoustic receivers through snorkelling methods to assembling underwater camera systems. Dani’s journey from being a snorkelling enthusiast to being a certified commercial diver exemplifies the transformative power of hard work and dedication.

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