By John Tapley
With summer on its way out, scuba diving around many parts of North America begins to slow; in other areas, it continues to make waves. Keeping the sport going strong for seasoned divers and future generations, the History of Diving Museum, located in Islamorada, Florida, is hosting two events in September: one aimed at scientific pursuits; the other focused on the evolution of scuba technology.
Opened in 2005, the History of Diving Museum is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational institution, which shares the evolution of scuba diving and its technology while hosting events that enable visitors to take part in this rich history.
“Our exhibits tell the international story of man’s quest to explore under the sea,” explains museum executive director Lisa Mongellia. “It’s a diverse collection: from the beginning of breath hold diving; commercial diving; military diving. You have to get three-quarters of the way through the exhibits until you finally get to regulators and rebreathers.”
In addition to these key historic features, the museum frequently rotates exhibits with different themes, which often complement public events. Launched August 1, the current changing exhibit, “Pushing The Envelope”, centers on the technical diving revolution and celebrates innovations, which were made between the late ‘80s and early ‘90s: particularly breakthroughs from military divers, such as mixed gas configurations, which integrated into public scuba diving. Through these efforts, the world of technical diving opened to an entirely new group of divers.
The “Pushing The Envelope” exhibit will coalesce with the upcoming Dive Into History event, slated for Saturday, September 22 and Sunday 23. Headlined by retired US Navy Saturation Diving Officer Joe Dituri, the two-day event will showcase the exhibit’s focus on tech evolution.
“It focuses on bouncing our changing exhibit: technical diving, mixed gases, and checking out bio planetary diversity,” says Mongellia. “Joe will talk about scientific emissions going to 130 meters around the globe, [including] species and scientific research they’ve found at those depths. Joe coming in and talking about biodiversity in realms your average recreational or even technical diver can’t get to.”
Following Dituri’s presentation at 10 a.m., visitors will be able to experience these technological advancements firsthand with a double-dip dive on one of Key Largo’s signature dive destinations: the USS Spiegel Grove artificial reef. During the dive, guests can take part in a REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) fish survey to observe how much the reef has developed since it opened to recreational divers in 2002.
“It’s a great way for technical divers who are coming in to see the ‘Pushing the Envelope’ exhibit… to be able to hear about what they’ve learned and what technical diving has done with expanding the species we know about, then taking that application to the water and seeing what’s floating around on the Spiegel Grove. From a barren piece of sand, at last count it’s had 212 species identified.”
“Most of the divers who go on the Spiegel Grove have advanced open water training but the top starts at 50 to 60 feet of water, and you can easily get to the first two or three decks without evening getting into triple digits,” says Mongellia. “It’s considered an advanced dive but there’s a lot to see.”
A week after the Dive Into History event, the History of Diving Museum will host a festivity centered on vintage scuba equipment and the progression of diving technology throughout the decades. Certification agency NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) Worldwide has partnered with the museum, and will present over 20 sets of refurbished double hose regulators in controlled settings. Running on September 30, Vintage Dive Day will respectively take place at Key West with the Florida Keys Community College, and Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo with Marine Lab. After each event, visitors will have opportunities to mingle with Sea Hunt episodes and a BBQ lunch provided by Centennial Bank.
“A lot of our audience are certified divers, but if you talk to them about a double-hosed regulator, they have no idea what it is. In order to appreciate where we are now, we want to take them back in time: to make them feel like Mike Nelson or Zale Perry: what it was like to swim around with a steel cylinder.
“We’ll take our participants and walk them through, getting them orientated to the equipment. We’ll put them on shallow water platforms to try mask and regulator clearing, and getting comfortable with vintage gear. They’ll go on guided tours with instructors around the lagoons; we have professional photographers at each location for that Mike Nelson photo op.”
Twenty-seventeen marked the History of Diving Museum’s first Vintage Dive Day: a single event, which took place in Islamorada.
“It was a successful event. We had high school kids, Teens for Oceans, come out along with various people from the public,” says Mongellia. “Some of the participants from last year helped us organize for this year. We’re happy to extend it, and if this is another successful year, we’ll do it annually.”
With autumn on its way, scuba diving may slow down in many areas throughout the United States, but the History of Diving Museum continues to share the thrill and discovery of scuba diving year-round. These projects are made possible through volunteers, donations, and memberships.
“A lot of these programs we do are geared toward not only the local dive community but also our members who get a discount or free presentations,” says Mongellia. “We are a non-profit and our membership dollars go to enhance our educational outreach programming, and part of that is in our special events – introduce other people to the diving community.”
For more information on the History of Diving Museum and its ongoing and future projects, visit www.divingmuseum.org.