Being a harrowing tale of the adventures of one diver as he attempts to become a Volunteer Diver at the Denver Downtown Aquarium.Part 1 of Several Installments.
I was first certified as an Open Water Diver in 1974, in Southern California when I was 14. While my diving adventures took me to Northern California, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Bahamas, due to a variety of financial, transportional, marital, and familial circumstances I didn’t complete my Advanced Open Water certification until April of 2012. Having acquired a passion to become a scuba instructor, with the expectation of a second career into which I could retire, I continued my education and qualified as a Rescue Diver the following September. It was then I learned that, in doing so, I’d racked up a few more than 50 dives, the minimum requirement for the Deep Blue Sea Foundation to consider talking to me about becoming a diver.
The Deep Blue Sea Foundation is the volunteer organization associated with the Denver Downtown Aquarium (DTAQ). DTAQ is owned by Landry’s, a food and entertainment company, which purchased Ocean Journey (as it was then called) several years ago. You can google ‘Denver Downtown Aquarium’ for more information about the restaurant, exhibits, and programs available.
I interviewed in October 2012 with Jackie E, who looks like the epitome of the ‘nice Jewish Grandma.’ She rules the volunteers with an iron fist in a velvet glove. After passing a drug test in November, then attending the general volunteer orientation in December, Brian S, the Dive Safety Officer (DSO), oversaw my swim test in January 2013: 400 yards (8 laps) in the pool in less than 15 minutes (I did it in just over 9); swim underwater for 20 yards on one breath; and tread water for 2 minutes without using my hands. I ended up treading for 3 minutes, since during the first part Brian couldn’t see that my hands were clasped on my stomach, underwater – he wanted to see them out of the water. Even though I’d practiced several times at the local rec center, I was still nervous, and plenty pleased to have passed with flying colors.
Having negotiated the gauntlet of pre-scuba qualifications, I was invited to the last and most important exam: scuba skills in the Dining Room exhibit.
After suiting up on the 3rd floor where the dive locker and showers are located, we walked thru the exhibit hall on the 2nd floor (greeting curious children and being gawked at by others all the way) to get to the narrow gangway above the Dining Room tank.
The Dining Room exhibit gets its name from the fact that the windows look out onto the restaurant floor. The exhibit itself is relatively narrow, and only about 17 feet deep. The ‘dock’ is on a winch and can be raised out of the water when not in use. There’s a small boat on the bottom below the dock that the eels like to hide in, and a couple of caves and grottos where a Nurse Shark and Potato Cod tend to rest. It’s divided into two tanks, with the smaller coral reef zone (Section 1) accessed by a narrow ladder. Walking along the gangway and getting in and out while wearing full diving regalia is a bit of a challenge.
To avoid cross-contamination of the various tanks, most of the exhibits have dedicated equipment to be used. Regulators, BCD’s, fins, and weights, as well as scrubbing brushes and other supplies are stored along the gang-way exclusively for use in the Dining Room, but we’re allowed to use as much of our own personal gear as we want, as long as we do a thorough rinse before and after each dive. I was also cautioned before I arrived to have gloves and a hood, to protect my ears and hair from being nipped by the denizens of the deep.
Besides the Nurse Shark and Potato Cod, other notable residents of the Dining Room include a large Green Moray, a Barracuda, and many other wonderful fish such as Trevally’s, Look-Downs, and Squirrel fish.
The scuba skill test required that I demonstrate a familiarity with the scuba equipment as well as ease and comfort in the water with the large animals: remove and replace my mask, regulator loss and recovery, switching between primary and secondary regulators, underwater swim without mask, remove and replace my tank and BCD, and finally buoyancy control. When we were done with the tests Brian had me demonstrate my ability to maintain position while scrubbing algae off of various surfaces; then he signaled for me to swim around and get acquainted with the exhibit.
Apparently I did well enough in this final exam that Brian felt comfortable letting me join the ‘scrubbing party’ in February: a bunch of divers got into the Dining Room to scrub the algae and detritus off of the various surfaces. The water was a real mess when we were done, but the faux rock and coral all looked great! And the pumps are such that the water cleared up fairly quickly. At one point I was looking for places to scrub on the boat and saw what I thought was a long green hose laying along the back wall behind the boat. As I moved along I saw it was getting larger, then disappeared. I peeked under the boat, and found myself face to face with the business end of a large Green Moray. His mouth was wide open, displaying all of his teeth in their characteristic evil-looking grin, as if to say, “C’mere, Scrubby Boy!!!”
Dave Madorsky lives with his wonderfully supportive family in the Denver Metropolitan Area; his personal philosophy is, “Anytime I’m underwater and still breathing is a GOOD time!”
Disclaimer: Some of the pictures displayed in this series were taken by Dave Madorsky, and some are from public domain sources to better illustrate the sea life described.