By John Tapley
Diving has come a long way since its earliest incarnations: from rudimentary breath-holding techniques circa antiquity, to the invention of the wetsuit, to exploring the mighty depths of the Marianas Trench. As everyday electronics continue to grow and evolve, shaping our lives, so too do technologies centered on scuba diving: advancements in optics, dive safety, travel, and other core components of the sport come and go with each year. While this is especially true for devices and gizmos divers need, scuba facilities and destinations the world over have also evolved to meet increasing demands, and stamp out common issues divers face. Quarries, inland oases for dive training and leisure, have gone from simple pockets of water-filled earth into full-fledged facilities aimed at providing fun, comfort, and greater accessibility. It is this drive that fuels the Divearium: an ambitious project based out of Virginia, which seeks to position itself as a quantum-leap in quarry diving.
Originally conceived in 2013, the Divearium “combines a diver training site and an underwater fauna and flora gallery/museum within a partially simulated aquarium environment”. Ultimately, it will serve as a multi-purpose facility where scuba divers will be able to learn and practice their skills while exploring an underwater venue unlike anything else they have experienced.
Inland diving on the whole can be a challenging ordeal for divers, particularly during cold days and winter months; comfort and health are usually at the forefront of their concerns. Designed to weather these tough conditions, the facility will include six heated diver sheds sitting on floating docks, where divers can comfortably don and doff gear without having to worry about external conditions. An added feature of each shed will be covered floor panels that will give divers immediate access into, and out of, the open water without needing to go outside.
Quarry diving in cold conditions can be an uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, experience, and as a result, a planned two-dive excursion often turns into a single affair – hypothermia is a chief concern. To address this reality, the Divearium will incorporate a warm-up pool: an enclosed area of warm water where divers can get into to balance their body temperatures, and continue diving, without having to leave the water.
Adding to this level of convenience, the facility is projected to be available five days a week throughout the entire year – no need to wait for the busy diving season.
There is far more to the Divearium than a simple training facility or diver hangout, however: education on local waters, as well as exotic climes is the key feature of Rios’s project. Through a series of displays and exhibits (life-sized creatures and replicated environments Rios calls “aquascapes”), visitors will have opportunities to learn more about aquatic worlds of all stripes: from the mighty Amazon to ocean environments teeming with coral reefs – all within a freshwater venue. Plans also include a vibrant and live fish population that will enable guests to swim alongside quarry diving favorites such as bass, bluegill, freshwater eels, and other mainstays. The entire underwater environment will be designed to take divers on a “safari”-like adventure that is visually exhilarating and hugely educational.
Inspiration has been a driving force in the world of diving since its inception, and Divearium creator Al Rios has carried this passion for most of his life: electrified by the adventures of Jacques Cousteau; certified at age 14; driven further by inland Virginia sites and Caribbean adventures. Standing on the shoulders of giants, his plans for the facility are meant to fill in gaps and inadequacies of quarry diving, which in his opinion, have fallen by the wayside:
“Quarry diving started big time in the ‘60s, and since then [they] have been used for diver training and certification. Some have developed into dive destinations where large objects are submerged to give something to look at and enjoy. [The objects] usually remain underwater for long periods of time without being removed or rotated: metal objects rust and ‘attractions’ accumulate sludge, muck, and algae. After a while, divers get bored with the quarry experience. This explains the decade-long downward trend of inland diving. My model seeks to inject adrenaline into the quarry-diving scene.”
Many quarry diving sites throughout North America often provide full service amenities, such as gear rentals, and air fills, which are provided courtesy the host or a satellite dive shop. The Divearium will differ, at least initially, in that these services will not be available. For Rios, this decision was made out of respect for the community: the Divearium will be a facility for divers to get wet in, but is not intended to replace the neighborhood dive shop.
“We want to encourage inland diver participation, but divers will need to go through their local shops for gear rental, sales, dive classes and certifications,” says Rios. “We want to supplement what dive shops are doing by giving their customers (divers) an exciting place to dive. This will spur growth and revenue. Everyone will benefit from it.”
This spirit of community will not be strictly localized to Virginia, either; and Rios hopes to one day share the Divearium experience with scuba explorers around the country: changing not only the way divers explore quarries, but bringing out the locations’ full potential.
Rios elaborates further:
“Our vision is to set up a brand-new model for how quarry diving is done. We’re hoping that charters will start breaking out around the United States: a Virginia Divearium; a Colorado Divearium; an Arizona Divearium. Our plan is to change the way quarries are viewed: to help quarry site owners and dive shop managers see that quarries can be so much more than just good training sites. They can also be excellent aquatic life educational centers! Places where visiting divers can practice their skills and learn about ocean and freshwater life, and how they interact with the biosphere. [It] is something that’s never been done before, and we hope the concept will continue to spread.”
An ongoing project since 2013, the Divearium model has met with a few bumps along the way: finding an ideal site chief among these hindrances. Currently, Rios has his eyes set on a quarry at Silver Lake Regional Park in Haymarket, Virginia. A recent example of an aquascape was sunk at this specific location, produced by Rios and hosted on his YouTube channel, can be found at https://youtu.be/OCAWh7bPkEE.
“The hammerhead, moray, and coral objects have been sitting in my garage for over two years now, so I asked the Parks and Rec Assistant Director if I could temporarily submerge them in the quarry and take a video in order to help the General Board of Directors (the group that will ultimately decide if it will adopt the project) understand the general idea of what we want to do. The video will be included in the final presentation to the Board.”
From pearl diving to scoping the Titanic, the evolution of diving has continued strong; and thanks to the efforts of visionaries such as Rios, can continue to march on. New ideas founded on figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and how to fix these issues and enhance strengths will lead his project into the future.
For more information on the Divearium, including in-depthdetails, visit www.divearium.com.