Although many activities were impacted by COVID-19 this semester, the Marine Science Club (MSC) dive trips have returned this November. In November, the club offered two dive trips in the Gulf of Mexico for certified students to get out on the water.
“I feel like it's one of the best things for COVID,” sophomore animal studies and environmental studies major Reilley McHale said. “Once you get down into the water, you're just in your own little world and you’re separated enough from everybody.”
Last spring, when COVID-19 hit hard, MSC cancelled all dive trips after March. These two trips are the first ones they were able to offer this semester since they are difficult to coordinate, getting the dive shop involved and students to come. MSC has also limited the number of spots on the trips to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and both of the dives filled quickly with four and six spots available.
They are working with dive shops that sanitize the rental equipment and are requiring students to wear masks when they are not in the water. Once students are in the water, they have their own regulators in their mouth to breathe, with little chance for transmission between people.
On Nov. 22, McHale, MSC SCUBA coordinator, joined four other students and dove with the Gulfport Dive Center. They went out in the gulf and had a successful two-tank dive, with calm waters and 15-foot visibility.
“It went great,” McHale said in an email. “We went to a reef and the drop off and saw some neat critters like groupers.”
Typically, divers can see all sorts of fish and creatures on a dive, like groupers, rays, lionfish and tarpon. Lisa Benecchi, a sophomore biology major and the other MSC SCUBA coordinator, is a certified dive master who loves diving with the club.
“You always see cool stuff like some nice colorful fishes,” Benecchi said. “It's just such a bonding experience to have the same passion for diving. [Being] so close to fishes in the marine ecosystem in general, it's just amazing to have the ability to breathe underwater and to just be with them and be a fish for 40 minutes.”
This weekend on Saturday, Nov. 28, MSC will dive through Tanks-a-lot Dive Center, another dive in the Gulf. Benecchi and McHale said they hope to have two dives per month next semester, taking students to many different places to dive around Florida like Rainbow River, West Palm Beach, Clearwater, Devil’s Den and Venice Beach.
Benecchi went on a fossil dive with MSC to Venice Beach, Florida last year, where they found a megalodon tooth, mammoth tooth and a dugong bone.
“It was amazing,” Benecchi said. “It was beautiful.”
Students who are not certified should reach out to Scubi Jews before diving with MSC, since MSC requires open water dive certification prior to diving. McHale and Benecchi are hoping to get as many students as possible out on the water and are promising some surprises for the spring semester. Their favorite part is building a diving community at Eckerd.
“We have a lot of new divers usually dive with us, so it's kind of a great way for them to get their feet wet and kind of learn more about diving,” McHale said. “It's a great way to meet people here on campus.”
Interested students can email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow them on Instagram @ecmarinesciclub.