Catalina Island News

'Citizen Scientists' May Explore Catalina's Deep Water

Catalina Island Conservancy

Catalina Island is known as the SCUBA diving capital of Southern California. Divers flock to the Island's crystal clear waters teaming with colorful marine life, golden garibaldis and towering kelp forests. But, what is down deeper? Way deeper... In September and October, the general public, citizen scientists and even some Avalon school kids and others from the mainland will have to chance to board a glass-bubbled submersible and descend to where literally no one has gone before.

This is all a part of the Undersea Voyager Project - a non-profit organization established to circumnavigate and study 27,000 miles of the Earth's oceans at depths between 100 and 1,000 feet using human occupied submarines to advance and communicate to the world, scientific understanding of the ocean.

Heading up the five-year project is Scott Cassell, noted marine explorer, whose amazing underwater videography has been featured on MTV, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the History Channel, Disney, and BBC among television venues. Cassell is most famous for his on-screen, in-water encounters with a variety of shark species and impressively large Humbolt squid.

For 45 days beginning September 1, Cassell will pilot the submersible, Antipodes, to various dive spots around Catalina Island, taking with him researchers, scientists, and even those who are not scientists who want to experience the unique thrill of deep water exploration. The Antipodes, with two acrylic domes, has room for a crew of 5, including Cassell.

"At 900 feet, we will see what very few people have," Cassell said. "At this depth, we may see huge, 6-gill sharks, deep-dwelling octopus, juvenile rockfish, potentially new species and undiscovered ship wrecks."

Cassell said he welcomes marine biologists, or citizen scientists interested in studying the unique environment around Catalina. "We will work with them to customize missions from one to 30 days, that meet their field research needs, and achieve data-collection objectives," Cassell said.
"Researcher experiments can be externally mounted on the sub and can either be remotely or automatically operated from inside the sub. Internal experiment devices can be operated by the researcher."
"Even non-scientists are welcome to serve as mission specialists," he added. "Tax-deductable financial contributions will provide much needed support to leading researchers and local school children. Ten percent of all donations will go to help protect and restore the Island's unique ecosystem."

And, some Avalon school students and students from the mainland will be able to ride on the submersible for an experience of a lifetime. Students will be selected through a contest being run by the Catalina Chamber of Commerce, Santa Catalina Island Company, and Conservancy, details soon to be announced.

"First of all, the project is just plain exciting, but the fact that we'll be able to provide life changing adventures for our students makes it exceptional," said Frank Hein, the Conservancy's Manager of Education. "The Cousteaus, and for that matter, the Cassells of our world are born of experiences like these. Who knows? The next champion of oceans and islands may be among us, just waiting for a spark. This project will definitely provide that, for as many of our students as possible," he added.

Said Donna Harris, the Chamber's Marketing Manager, "This promises to be an exhilarating adventure for all who can take advantage of it. Not only is it an opportunity for our Island kids to learn about their marine environment, it promises to be an exciting opportunity to share the discoveries with our island visitors and with the citizen scientists who want to experience for themselves Catalina's fascinating life under the sea."

Cassell's Undersea Voyager Project made its maiden voyage recently in and around Lake Tahoe.
"We actually had four 14-year-old science students learn to fly the sub, and actually were taught the scientific method of data collection. The kids learned how to operate and maintain the sub," he said. "Our goal is to have live transmissions of dives so that teachers can talk to their classrooms in real time and take questions from hundreds of feet underwater," he continued.

In Lake Tahoe, Cassell and crew discovered 2,000-year-old trees, perfectly preserved and still standing straight up in the water. He also discovered a potentially new species of life living on the trees, "a single, cellular life form that creates colonies that look like jellyfish," he said. "Looking at those things is like looking back millions of years in time."

For more information on how to join the crew of the Undersea Voyager Project as a researcher or a mission specialist, call: (703) 346-3041.