On the morning of May 18, 2012, students from the Canterbury School of Florida’s marine studies education program and BSA Venture Crew 210 took advantage of an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go SCUBA diving with Pierre-Yves Cousteau, son of world renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. We went diving on the St. Pete Beach Reef, five miles off the coast of Pass-a-Grille in St. Petersburg, Florida. The site is a 35-foot deep artificial reef, composed of 10 sunken U.S. army tanks, a 200 foot barge, and pieces of bridge rubble that are now home to hundreds of fish, corals, and various other marine organisms. That morning, we met at the docks of Tampa Bay Watch and boarded the two dive boats which took us to the site. We were all excited for what was for many of us our first salt water dive. The conditions were great, with near top to bottom visibility, and we happened to arrive while the reef was covered with a school of Gulf Sardines. There were so many that when several of us got separated from our dive partners, we couldn’t see them through the schools of fish! We saw several goliath grouper–some of which were larger than the students–which tried to frighten us off with a loud noise made by whipping their tails through the water if we got too close. We also saw dozens of flounder, sea stars, urchins, several anemones, and even a toad fish. Several of us also found a large sea cucumber, and others spotted a small shark and several barracuda. The surfaces of the reef were covered with small coral and sponges, which at closer look were a habitat entirely of their own, teeming with many species of small brightly colored fish. Students on each of the two dive boats had the opportunity to dive with Mr. Cousteau, who stopped by underwater and gave everyone a high five.
We did do more than “just survive” our first dive. All of the students who went on the trip were provided with a dive slate, on which we wrote a list of marine organisms commonly found at the dive site. While underwater, we took tallies of the number, size, and variety of the marine organisms we saw. The data will serve as a baseline for future dives to monitor the health of the reef. We hope that this will also help us to develop a post-dive survey, which Mr. Cousteau has asked us to create for recreational divers to use to monitor the health of marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. This survey is just one of the many amazing opportunities we are being given to get involved with the Cousteau Divers program and conserving the oceans, all through Canterbury’s unique marine studies program and partnership with Mr. Cousteau. We are all looking forward to many more dives in the future! — by Emily M., Canterbury Class of 2014, and Ellen M., Canterbury Class of 2016