Aquatic-plant specialist and scuba diver focuses on the restoration of native plant communities in lakes, streams, wetlands and marine areas.
What do you do? I am an aquatic-plant specialist and scuba diver, focused on the restoration of native plant communities in lakes, streams, wetlands and marine areas [for Herrera Environmental Consultants in Seattle]. I conduct diver surveys, invasive-species-control operations and mapping. I also work from boats and from land (if I have to).
How did you get that job? I started with a strong interest in plants and soils. I had some wonderful mentors who got me connected to vegetation surveys and the UW Wetland Science and Management Program (Go, WSM class of 1999!). Once working at Herrera, I did a lot of wetland surveys, then got myself into deeper and deeper water: The Herrera dive team was looking for someone to swim behind the engineers and limnologists with a video camera. Offered a chance to fulfill my Jacques Cousteau fantasies, I accepted the challenge and have been diving for work ever since (that was 2004).
What’s a typical day like? A typical dive day starts the night before with a pile of gear bins staged for the morning mobilization and a gauntlet of checklists to ensure all the pieces are accounted for. The van is loaded with the inflatable boat and outboard, and I pick up the rest of the dive team on the way to the site. We pack in as much coffee and calories as we can on the way. Once at the site, the van doors open, the crew piles out and a frenzy of dive gear set-up and boat mobilization begins. Once ready, the dive team conducts our pre-dive safety briefing. Then gear on, regulators in and over the side of the boat to begin the workday.
We’ll often spend most of the day underwater — truly, a different perspective on the world — mapping plants, pulling weeds or collecting samples and video. Once we’re done, everything gets shoved into the van, I pour a bucket of clean water over my head, towel off, and head home to rest up. The next morning will be spent cleaning gear to prevent spreading invasives.
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What’s the best part of the job? The best part of the job is to witness underwater life in all the surprising and amazing forms it takes. Ever seen a freshwater sponge, a bryozoan or an octopus blowing fresh water over its eggs? In the moments you have to reflect on your setting, it’s pretty cool — like swimming in an aquarium. My greatest moment underwater was being wrestled by a river otter. Also memorable (but perhaps not great) are the impressively large leeches that occur in some lakes.
What surprises people about your job? People are surprised about the diversity of Puget Sound marine life and how hammered our freshwater lakes have become. Saltwater dives are surprising in the amazing beauty and diversity, even in areas you would expect to be highly impacted (like Alki — gorgeous!).
Freshwater dives in developed areas are kind of shocking in the amount of garbage that ends up in there (all of the fireworks, lawn chairs, beer cans and lawn darts are still down there, folks!). And this is just the garbage you can see. The water surface does a wonderful job of hiding what lies below.
Let’s all work to make that world cleaner for all those who follow. And let’s keep invasives at bay by always cleaning your boat and gear when you leave a lake. And never, ever introduce aquarium plants or animals to our native waterways! They have created a mess. Everyone can make a difference, and that is often surprising to most.