In a few weeks, I will be traveling to Kiritimati Atoll in the Republic of Kiritibati. I will be responsible for all of the researchers’ safety as we SCUBA dive for three weeks, collecting samples and conducting surveys of the coral (click here for more info about our research!). How can I ensure we’re safe?
We use a compressor to fill our SCUBA tanks, but it is not in a dive shop like you’d find in a North American city. Unlike at a dive shop, there is no one who is testing the compressor’s air quality to ensure that it is safe to breathe. As you dive deeper below the surface, the relative amount of each component of the air mixture increases, meaning that potential negative effects of any contaminants like carbon monoxide are also increased. What seems fine when you are breathing it at the surface can be life-threatening underwater. Because of this, I will test the air quality of the compressor and every SCUBA tank that I fill from it to ensure that it is safe…making for a totally reasonable and not ridiculous start time of 5:45. In the morning.
Now this tropical diving thing doesn’t seem any simpler than my usual cold water dive trips.
Most importantly, there is no hospital or hyperbaric chamber to use in the event of a diving medical emergency on Kiritimati. The nearest one of each is a mere 2,162 km away by sea and there is only a flight there once a week. No sweat, we’re prepared. Every team member is an experienced diver and scientist. We always practice safe dive procedures and stay within the limits of our dive tables. All of us are highly trained in dive accident management and we have a supply of emergency oxygen on the island. In the extremely unlikely event that a diver would need to be evacuated to a hospital or chamber, we can have a rescue plane heading our way with one phone call. Because we cross the international date line to get to Kiritimati, help would technically arrive 18-19 hours before it was called. Neat!
All of these precautions, planning, and equipment mean that we can carry out our study in the safest possible way. As for me, I’m excited to ditch the 40 lbs of lead, get underwater, and start collecting data!
Are you keen to find out more about our project or help us get there? Check out our Indiegogo campaign.
Photo Credit: John Burns, Kieran Cox, and Jeff Reynolds respectively.