One of the most under-rated perks of being a scuba instructor is all of the great people I get to meet. I’ve had the chance to form some great friendships over the last few years. A couple of these friends are volunteer divers at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD and this year for my birthday I was invited to join them for an afternoon of diving at the aquarium where I got to meet some new people and learn a little bit about what’s involved in being a member of one of the National Aquarium’s volunteer dive teams.
The commitment to be a dive team volunteer is 8 hours every 14 days, so the National Aquarium has 14 “Blue Wonders” teams. Everybody does a full day every other week. I was diving with the Saturday B team and I found out that I was getting to dive in the Atlantic Coral Reef (ACR) exhibit!
We arrived a little before 8am, and I was admitted through the (not so) super-secret employee entrance, got signed in, and shown to the changing area and where they store the dive gear. I wasn’t allowed to bring anything except my 3mm wetsuit, (wrist) dive computer, mask, and fins.
The first dive of the day was a feeding dive, so before I could even think about getting into the water I got to help prepare food for the residents of the ACR. Because of safety concerns guest divers aren’t allowed to actually use a knife to chop up food, so I was sent into the walk-in fridge and freezer to pull out all manner of fish, squid, and mollusks to prep. The wall had perhaps 10 different “recipes” for prepping food for various animals, and of course I got to mix up a batch of chopped up food with my hands.
At about 10am it was time to get into the water with the team. We headed up to the ACR and let the volunteers with the real food (fish, squid, mollusks) get in first and feed most of the the targeted animals. I was given a lettuce feeder to place at one end of the exhibit. The fish weren’t shy about nibbling on it the second I hit the water with it.
After most of the feeding was complete I got the chance to explore the exhibit. Remember this was at most 13 feet, so a normal tank of air lasts quite a long time! I have seen most of the animals in the ACR during my trips down to the Caribbean, but there is something pretty amazing about getting the chance to dive and see these creatures in downtown frikkin’ Baltimore!
A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to get to dive the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD. I went diving in the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit and some of the fish in there just looooooved getting a rock bath. As you can see…
I also got the chance to “play” with the fish a little bit as well. Most notably in giving them a rock bath. As soon as I picked up a handful of gravel they seemed to just love swimming through it. My guide also showed me a Rock Hind Grouper who acted more like a puppy dog than a fish. He just LOOOOVED rock baths.
But the creatures I enjoyed interacting with the most during my visit to the Atlantic were the human beings on the other side of the glass. The kiddos especially seemed to enjoy the site of a scuba dive popping up and giving them a good wave. During my dive we also got to come up through the outside section of the aquarium and surprise folks. I really loved this aspect of my aquarium dive!
We broke for lunch, showered up, and grabbed lunch in the courtyard across from the National Aquarium. Then it was right back to ACR dive #2 (also known as the cleaning dive). During this second dive of the day the volunteer team was cleaning the aquarium. Remember that the rock formations and coral in the exhibit aren’t real. They are typically fiberglass and they get covered with algae (among other things). The team brought out their scrub brushes to help keep the ACR in tip-top shape and scrubby mitts to clean the windows.
So a HUGE Thank You Y & S..and also K, J, E, G, O, M, Z and of course the members of the Saturday B Team for helping to make this happen.. What an amazing experience for somebody who loves scuba diving!.
If you’re reading I hope you’re thinking “That’s pretty cool, I should plan a visit to the National Aquarium and check out the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit and or perhaps even I’d sure like to find out more about volunteering at the National Aquarium”