Underwater Wakulla- August 31, 2017

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At 70, Still Diving By GREGG STANTON

At 70, Still Diving

I now offer references to aspiring diving scientists, which takes me back.

You all know, when I was certified to dive at age 17 in 1964, I was told to plan to hang up my fins at age 40. That was a totally incomprehensible 24-year life span.  I could only expect to no longer be immortal by that age. I either dove or went surfing every weekend for the first year. In college I found jobs that let me dive weekly, such as working for the Hawaii Cooperative Fishery Research Unit at the University of Hawaii in the study of Artificial Reefs.I easily cleared 1000 dives before leaving Hawaii in 1970, having passed my NAUI Instructor exams (Provisionally), graduated with 5 years of college in Zoology, and got married.

My search for employment in the early 1970’s took me across an unfamiliar mainland, finally settling for a water collector job for the Florida Department of Pollution Control (former FDEP). I ran their Mercrusers around Escambia and Perdido Bays, taking samples for various projects.  Great thrills running the Bays, but little diving, so I gave it up to work at Aquatics Sciences in Boca Raton. I was closer to the Keys, so we headed down to marvel in what was available underwater back then. Yes, the corals were abundant but stressed. I cultured oysters, algae, rotifers and other creatures to feed larvae fish. We tested the effects of commercial products on marine animals. But as a research arm of Aquatic Sciences (the makers of Instant Ocean), we were challenged.

My first big break came as a research diver at Harbor Branch Foundation Lab (now a lab for Florida Atlantic University). I jumped at the opportunity, began diving every weekend again since the surfing was lousy. I began teaching diving at the Indian River Community College. I was a member of the Johnson Sea Link support divers and created the Harbor Branch Interlibrary Loan Department. Just as I thought I had gone to heaven, the Sea Link was trapped in the Keys and diving was put on hold. I took the summer off and attended the Scientist-In-The-Sea Program (SITS) at the USN base in Panama City. There, while living underwater, I met Bill Herrnkind.

Clear vision began after the SITS Program and my acceptance at FSU for an advanced degree with Dr. Herrnkind. I grew up as a diving scientist under Dr. Herrnkind. He had to cool my jets as I was barreling through my degree to move on. I ended up staying 5 years to create the largest diver support research program in the country. I then accepted the Directorship of the Academic Diving Program in 1979. It still exists at FSU, but has been downsized. At age 40, we were discovering NITROX!

With opportunities growing in Panama City to work with the US Navy to offer the SITS Program again, develop new lines of underwater research and a program of Underwater Crime Scene Investigations, I jumped, leaving my Tallahassee program.  In 5 years we created anew an Advanced Science Diving Program that continues to this day. Seeing rebreathers as the new future, I retired from FSU to pursue the Wakulla Diving Center, a specialization private endeavor as large as the Academic Diving Program, but with fewer students (which I greatly miss).  And that was 14 years ago.  Under this new Program, I dive deeper (100 meters) and longer (4 hrs. routinely) and with greater safety than I ever did in my entire career.  Space-age Rebreathers have permitted this opportunity.

So now that I am at 70 years of age, when is the next age that I should consider hanging up my fins?  I’ll let you know when I find it.