Making the grade in today’s diving world is becoming increasingly more difficult. It’s no longer sufficient to rely on that tatty old neoprene wet suit held together by faith and patches, or wistful tales of, “When I were down an ‘undred feet or more …” Now, without a distinctive field of interest, divers are doomed to remain on the outer edge of a fragmented activity dominated by technocrats and specialists.
Sadly the joy and thrill of simply being underwater is, for many, no longer an end in itself. Advances in equipment technology have pushed back the boundaries, in the process paving the way for a new breed of divers who regard their particular sphere of interest as being the only legitimate diving activity and who, all too often, disdainfully ignore those among us who fail to share their passion.
Where conversation among divers at social gatherings once focussed on the total diving experience, the pattern has now changed. There’s still talk, of course, about diving in general or the relative merits of particular destinations, but all of that has become little more than an appetiser for the sublime topic of ‘Special Interests’.
Underwater photographers talk about exposure tables, bracketing and the like; marine biologists prattle on about the exciting social life of coral polyps; and Technical Divers – the amoeba of the diving world – divide into sub-groups broadly categorised by, Cave, Wreck and Rebreathers. Even Deep Air Divers gather into defensive groups and manage the occasional mumble or glassy-eyed twitch.
The remainder, those of us without a “speciality”, become bewildered, stutter a lot, and wonder whether we could ever have really enjoyed our diving without the benefit of such esoteric interests or knowledge.
The major problem, however, in acquiring a special interest is that of cost. It can be expensive and time consuming. And if, like me, you have no real desire to go frolicking around in underwater caves or spending hours at a time on a decompression bar but just want to enjoy diving for its own sake, then it may seem to be a pointless exercise.
It’s not. Now that the inmates have taken over the asylum it’s imperative that all we ‘normal’ divers become experts in obscure, ocean related topics. I, for example, aware of my own inadequacies and with a strong desire to be – providing it costs me nothing – a meaningful contributor to all future conversations with divers, recently decided to become a phycologist. (It surprised me to learn just how many of my former friends – misinterpreting my pronunciation – believed that I already was one.)
A ‘phycologist’ is, of course, an expert on sea-weeds. A quick glance through Dr Hermione Catfolly’s classic work, ‘A Lay-Person’s Guide To Phycology’ and I’d mastered sufficient terminology to get me past the, ”And what’s your particular diving interest?” stage of any conversation.
I now know that sea-weeds are algae, structurally simple plants that fall into three groups most easily determined by their colour; red (Rhodophyta); brown (Phaeophyta); or green (Chlorophyta) with a less important fourth group consisting of blue-green algae (Cyanophyta). Providing food and shelter for vertebrates and invertebrates alike, seaweeds are an integral part of the food chain and, being chemically rich, have been harvested by man for centuries, for use as fertiliser, medicine and food.
As a speciality, ‘phycology’ may not rank as one of the all time diving specialty greats, but as a guaranteed gob-stopper for future non-meaningful chatter with a hearing impaired deep air diver, it’ll do just fine. Providing there isn’t a real Fu … Fu … Phycologist around.
The above article was first published in Asian Diver Magazine in November 1997