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AQUARIUM DIVES: TO COUNT OR NOT TO COUNT?
By: Robert Partington
In the quest to further our scuba training, the question is aquarium dives: to count or not to count? The qualifications require a minimum number of dives. So, the obvious question is what constitutes a “dive”? Most of the major scuba certifying organizations only define standards for training dives, not recreational dives. However, many divers agree that a dive must be at least 20 feet for at least 20 minutes.
Aquarium Dive Experience
While I am not yet a well-traveled diver, I have had the opportunity to dive in 2 aquariums. My first aquarium dive was in the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD to 13 feet for 45 minutes. Their Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit features over 400 fish, including 2 green moray eels. My second aquarium dive was the Epcot Dive Quest in Orlando to 25 feet for 45 minutes. The highlights were the sand tiger sharks and the bowmouth guitarfish. Both dives were amazing and provided me with experiences that I may not have had on an open water dive.
Many divers do not think aquarium dives should count toward the required number of dives for certifications. Some believe these are not “real” dives because aquariums are controlled environments.
Why I Disagree
Aquarium dives offer unique benefits to a diver. Like the ocean, they house many species of marine life. Unlike the ocean, the diver is guaranteed to experience interaction with the animals. Plus, most aquariums, as part of the dive experience, offer an in-depth educational presentation. All of these experiences add to the diver’s knowledge of the marine world.
Diving in an aquarium is also a fantastic confidence builder. It offers new and inexperienced divers the opportunity to get scuba experience in a controlled environment. Aquariums mimic the water salinity and exposure to animal life of ocean diving. Also, aquarium dives safely expose skittish divers to sea life. Spoiler alert: marine creatures are not going to eat you as soon as you enter the water! Aquarium diving reinforces good buoyancy and the rules of marine life interaction. The best part is that aquarium dives allow non-diving friends and family to share in the awesomeness of scuba diving. Recently, I had my second dive in the National Aquarium for the express purpose of showing my daughter’s friend how cool scuba is. After seeing me in the tank, she is pumped to get certified.
The Case For Counting
The most important point I want to make is that any time a diver is underwater and performing scuba skills, they are adding to their overall experience. I would agree that jumping in a pool and sitting on the bottom for 20 minutes is not really “experience”. Aquarium dives are not that. Divers must interact with marine life and use their scuba skills just like in an open water environment (sometimes even better). If experience is the main goal for the prerequisite dives, aquarium dives provide that and more.
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