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The ecstasy of working underwater

As far as unique work environments go, underwater is at the front of the pack. Marine scientists literally submerge themselves in a vast ecosystem to gain a better understanding of the organisms that live there.

Being able to observe and study an array of marine animals from whales to invertebrates can be an awe inspiring experience.

“It is life changing to be able to breathe underwater and view these species in their natural habitats,” said Liz Bentley Magee, coordinator of Northeastern’s Three Seas Program.  “It’s unlike anything you can experience on land.”

The Three Seas Program that Magee now runs was actually the reason for her attending Northeastern as a student.

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Liz Bentley Magee is the program manager for Three Seas. Photo by Mariah Tauger/Northeastern University

The program gives undergraduate students a unique opportunity to work in the marine biology field for an entire academic year. They dive in and collect data from three different marine ecosystems: Panama; Washington state; and Massachusetts, near Northeastern’s Marine Science Center in Nahant.

“I grew up in Rhode Island and as long I can remember this is something that I wanted to do,” said Evangeline Fachon, S’17. “Three Seas was awesome because it was a great way to explore different facets of ocean science. I learned just how much science you can do underwater.”

Ann Hulver, S’17, had a similar experience, as the Three Seas Program inspired her to major in marine biology. “I wanted to be in the biology field but I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Hulver explained. “Then I visited the Marine Science Center and heard about Three Seas and thought ‘Wow, I get to take classes that involve going diving and being underwater,’ and I was pretty stoked about it.”

Of course, underwater work does come with its challenges. Recording data about specific types of fish or coral can be daunting when you have an air tank strapped to your back and ocean waves are rocking you back and forth.

“Underwater work is definitely hard, especially when what you are doing takes a lot of hard work and concentration,” said Fachon, who begins her  co-op on Monday at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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Courtesy photo by Ann Hulver

For example, at the Marine Science Center the ocean water is very murky, which Fachon said reduces visibility when it comes to looking at a species or recording data.

And because scientific divers typically carry more equipment than recreational divers, they need to be more aware of their surroundings. Hulver found that out the hard way one dive, when she opened her catch bag to get a container and the other contents of the bag started to float out.

“A catch bag is not something you normally take on a dive, but you soon learn the importance of putting weights on everything in your catch bag,” explained Hulver, who learned to dive while living in Saudi Arabia and worked on co-op for Three Seas this past spring.

And yet for all that hard work these three science divers say their underwater explorations have provided some unforgettable memories, like when Magee spent two weeks underwater with Mission 31, an undersea expedition off the Florida Keys in 2014.

“That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, getting to dive for up to nine hours and observing things I normally wouldn’t when I collect data,” Magee said.

 

(Correction: Our original story misstated one of the dive locations. It is Washington state, not Washington, D.C.)

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