The World of Scientific Diving

The World of Scientific Diving

From massive killer whales to ittybitty nudibranchs, our oceans are filled with all kinds of marvelous creatures. We are lucky to be located directly in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, with some of the best cold-water diving in the world. On any dive around Vancouver Island, colourful anemones dot the seafloor, green kelp forests thrive, and, if it’s a lucky day, you might even catch a glimpse of a Giant Pacific Octopus, one of the largest species of octopus in the world. These shy animals can grow to have an arm span of up to 20ft. While quite large they are able to squeeze themselves into the tiniest crevices because their beak is the only rigid part of their body, which, when combined with their colourchanging skin, can make them quite elusive. However, as we continue to study octopuses, it is becoming apparent that in addition to being masters of camouflage, they are incredibly intelligent and even show signs of having distinct personalities. They are classified as sentient beings due to their complex central nervous system giving them the ability to feel pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort, and excitement. Scientific divers are the ones responsible for conducting research on the marine environment and serve as our eyes and ears to the underwater world. 

A Giant Pacific Octopus photographed by a scientific diver floats across the ocean bottom.
Photo credit: National Geographic

What does a Scientific Diver do?

Scientific divers primarily work with researchers, government agencies, universities, and nonprofits to foster a comprehensive understanding of the many aspects of our oceans, including currents, weather patterns, plants, animals, and history. Their role in each project can range from environmental surveys to eelgrass planting and data collection. The information that scientific divers gather from the oceans and the practical, hands-on work they do is imperative to ensure our oceans not only remain productive for our industries but also healthy and biodiverse.  

A scientific diver notes down the wildlife, including eel grass and a sunflower sea star.
Training for Environmental Surveys in our Occupational SCUBA course.

What Certifications do I need to become a Scientific Diver?

If you want to work as a scientific diver in Canada, a DCBC (Diver Certification Board of Canada) commercial SCUBA certification is a must. Training for this certification will give you all the skills needed to work safely underwater as an Occupational SCUBA Diver anywhere in the world. While a degree opens many opportunities, there is still plenty of work for divers without academic backgrounds. If you want to jump in the water straight away, post-secondary education might not be necessary. 

Scientific Diving with an Academic Background

If you combine your commercial SCUBA certification with a post-secondary degree, you will have access to jobs focused on the technical aspects of environmental study, such as operating data collection equipment, organizing experiments, and laboratory work, in addition to diving duties. Most commonly, you will find work with research organizations focused on environmental studies and coastal biodiversity projects. The Hakai Institute, part of the Tula Foundation, is one such organization that specializes in marine and coastal research. They have multiple locations around Vancouver Island; from BC’s capital, Victoria, all the way up to Calvert Island, 260KM Northwest by sea from our location in Campbell River. If you love living and working in remote locations, they would be a perfect fit. Also, check with your university or college to see if they have affiliations with research organizations. If you are a student at the University of Victoria, look into the fall term partnership programs with the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center! But if you’d like to hop in the water right away, there are still plenty of opportunities that don’t require 4 years of study. 

Scientific Diving without an Academic Background

Scientific SCUBA divers with a DCBC certification are always needed for a variety of projects, which can make for a fulfilling career with just a DCBC Occupational SCUBA certification. Every year, in the spring, the government of Canada conducts extensive Herring Roe Assessments on the BC coast. This information is vital to understand herring populations, which informs the season’s fishing quota. The work is straightforward, well paid, and once you are part of a crew, you are likely to be on next year’s crew. Eelgrass planting is another fantastic job that has a positive impact on our environment. Healthy eelgrass beds create a nursery for juvenile fish and are vital to our oceans’ health but are easily disturbed by storms or human activity. Commercial scientific divers are necessary to replant eelgrass to sustain a rich and biodiverse ecosystem. In addition, do not feel like you are excluded from working with more academic organizations; while they may give preference for divers with university degrees, often the demand for commercial divers is greater, so they welcome all applicants. 

Divers training in Scientific Diving surveys.
Training for Environmental Surveys in our Occupational SCUBA course.

What Other Skills can I bring to Commercial Diving?

As with all commercial diving, scientific diving benefits from a wide variety of skills, and, if you are dedicated enough, it is possible to turn these skills into full-time careers. 

The underwater world is incredibly diverse and so is the work. Any skills you can bring to the job site will help you stand out! 

What Training do I need to be a Scientific Diver?

In order to become a commercial scientific diver, you will need an Occupational SCUBA certification from an accredited school. In just a short 4-week course, you will have all the certifications you’ll need to start diving: DCBC Occupational SCUBA Diver certification, Oxygen Administration, First Aid and Dive Accident Management are all included. Not only that, but at DiveSafe, we have a unit in our course dedicated to the local wildlife and environmental surveys taught by Sarah Frioult, our marine biology expert. In our course, you will experience some of the best cold-water diving in the world at various dive sites, including anemone gardens, kelp forests, and even a 350-foot destroyer-turned-artificial-reef. 

SCUBA is the primary choice for scientific diving due to its advantages in portability and low profile. However, a Surface Supply certification is always an asset and allows you to offer more skills to your team. You will have access to jobs that those without Surface Supply certifications don’t, such as penetration diving and ghost net retrieval, just to name a few. 

A commercial SCUBA Diver swims by a kelp forest.
Occupational SCUBA Diver in Training

The Ocean Awaits!

Scientific Diving is a broad and varied career, suitable for anyone with a curiosity about the world we live in. With or without an academic background, there are plenty of opportunities to start a career in the world of commercial scientific diving and the ocean has a substantial amount that is waiting to be discovered; dive in! 

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