Oceans of Opportunity

Since 2008, this Blog has been a communications priority providing shorts, op-eds, and bramblings that communicate our evolution to ‘a new life in the sea’.

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Rhode Island diving

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiAn interesting topic here in the Ocean State – Rhode Island diving.

I’m a lifetime resident and native of Rhode Island. I grew up spending my summers at the beaches in South County, fishing the Jetties at Pt. Judith, and eventually learning how to dive at our infamous, though highly inglorious Ft. Wetherill State Park.

As my diving career evolved, so did my exposure to Rhode Island diving – the sites, the community, and the politics. The latter comes with all things Rhode Island I suppose. I am choosing to write on this subject now, as we’re staring spring right in the face, and local diving activities are soon to ramp up for the masses – joining the die hard regulars who have been diving all winter to take advantage of clear but cold local waters. Then there are the handful of folks in my circles who are out there each and every day – repairing and constructing inshore infrastructure, maintaining various industrial and environmental facilities, and so on.

While Ft. Wetherill brings the masses for training – including many of the local colleges/universities who offer scuba programs, there is so much more offered beneath the surface of the Ocean State. Newport Harbor is home to numerous shallow wrecks dating from several hundred years old right through to present. Just as we fling an empty beer bottle over the side today, the same was done two and three hundred years ago, leaving old bottles and artifacts littering Newport, and other port locations. In the winters/early springtime, harbor seals can be spotted throughout Narragansett Bay, and while skittish, it is possible to have a close encounter. Jetties throughout the state are home to lobsters – get a license and bring home dinner. There is a whole community of shell fisherman in the state that dive exclusively for their catch. They primarily target the Quohog – RI’s state clam. There are also divers working on aquaculture pens to maintain this infrastructure. Needless to say, as a State with more than 3/4 of its borders being coastline, there are plenty of diving opportunities for the academic, amateur environmentalist, spear fisherman, or diving professional.

And it can be very good diving – we have several wrecks off our coast which are ‘destinations’ for the more experienced folks – the U853, a German sub; and the USS Bass, a scuttled US sub, are just two of the many more challenging, though not out of reach dives right here in Rhode Island. Many of these wrecks are offshore (though nearshore), close to Block Island. Out at Block, we have the pinnacles – two towering rock structures which provide havens for seasonal game fish including striped bass and tautog. Lastly, among my favorites – shark diving offshore.

While this sounds all well and good – RI diving is at a point of crisis. Many local dive shops are suffering – feeling the effects of a slowed local economy, and the pressure of competing with online retailers, and because a few have spent some time in jail – eh em. It boils down to our needing to ramp up a renewed enthusiasm for local diving – and this isn’t easy (subject for another post).

It’s cold, dark, equipment intensive, and seasonal – that means work. If you are reading this post, then you are likely sitting somewhere warm and comfortable, and only thinking about diving. While seemingly ridiculous, that kick in the butt to get up NOW and get in the water is a hard thing to do. This is largely because the extensive local knowledge/community that was very active here in RI are no longer in the game. Knowledge, and more importantly ‘enthusiasm’, has been lost.

What can we do to give RI diving a kick in the ass? Create opportunity (& resulting enthusiasm). Period.

I can’t personally force someone to suit up, nor can I do a dive for somebody. But I/we can create projects and programs that engage and inspire. Diving for the sake of diving will never work at a sustainable level here in Rhode Island – we don’t have the warm and clear water and coral reefs to simply sight see. However, we do have plenty of very real efforts to work with – artificial reefing programs, proposed mega-aquariums, environmental survey efforts for the State, and it goes on – all efforts that would benefit from some purpose-seeking diving efforts. But who to take such an initiative?

To be frank, our local Colleges and Universities need to take on diving seriously, as this is the home for the critical mass of individuals needed to sustain our diving industry. This is the ‘Ocean State’, and very few institutionally driven local undersea efforts are underway. Even the smallest initiatives generate high visibility – going viral here in the smallest State of the Union is easy, and goes a long way.

The problem within the academic setting is that diving is viewed as a consumptive activity – i.e. it takes resources and this costs money. I’d like to argue the opposite. Diving is productive. I’ve made my living as a diver here in Rhode Island since I was 16 ears old. Program level views of diving are highly productive – and are boosts for economic development as there are numerous business sectors that benefit both directly and indirectly. Again however, if no one is willing to put down there personal media devices and jump in the water – no matter how important the purpose is – it doesn’t work.

Bottom line is again – we need to take some ‘bottom up’ initiatives to demonstrate that ‘top down’ support is worthy. Grassroots. Get out there, and go diving. It changes everything.

That’s where I’ll be (and have been)…

the pool is open.