The SCUBAnauts International™(SNI) marine science education program (previously SCUBA Scouts USA) was founded by Captain David Olson in Palm Harbor, Florida, in May of 2001 in an effort to introduce young men and women, ages 12-18, to informal science education through underwater exploration. Due to the scientific rather than recreational nature of SNI, SCUBAnauts soon created their own identity.
For more than a decade, SNI has provided an unequaled opportunity for personal development through SCUBA diving, marine science and community involvement. SCUBAnauts operates four chapters in the Tampa Bay area in St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs, Tampa and Sarasota, with the common goal of educating youth in marine science and scientific diving.
The SCUBAnaut mission focuses on three goals in developing our youth: (1) science and environmental education, (2) diving experiences, and (3) personal development. These qualities have represented the core of the SNI vision since the group’s inception in 2001.
SCUBAnauts International participates in several events on an annual basis which engage our youth in scientific and political challenges in marine science. Each Summer, MOTE Marine Laboratory in Summerland Key, FL partners with SNI for coral restoration efforts of endangered coral species (Acropora cervicornis, Staghorn Coral). Additionally, SNI attends Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW) in Washington D.C. where nauts present their ideals to Congresswomen and men, as well as U.S. Senators and other marine science groups in the nation’s capital.
SCUBAnauts began with six dedicated teenagers (Andrew, Brynn, Jennifer, Julie, Ryan, and Alex), each of whom were certified in Basic Open Water SCUBA by YMCA SCUBA Instructor Jeff Paine in May 2001. As part of Captain Olson’s quest for these SCUBAnauts to use SCUBA while learning about the marine environment, several local marine scientists were contacted in hope of their being enlisted to support and assist in this endeavor.
Olson’s search for local marine research scientists led to the esteemed marine research scientist, Walter Jaap, of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Walter embraced the SNI program and was vital in developing SNI’s first major research project with Gulfstream Natural Gas Systems (GNGS). Gulfstream Natural Gas, a Houston-based company, established artificial reefs in Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico to mitigate habitat lost during the construction a major underwater natural gas pipeline.
Coral colonies, sponges, and other benthic (bottom dwelling) organisms were salvaged and relocated from areas impacted by the pipeline construction and reattached to 5,000 tons of Florida limestone boulders covering six mitigation sites located in and about Tampa Bay. SCUBAnauts were responsble for the long-term monitoring of these sites, recording how sizes of the transplanted species, and new life grew on the artificial reefs. This initial project gave SCUBAnauts credibility in the St. Petersburg marine science community allowing SNI’s research aid to grow with the addition of scientists from the United State Geological Survey (USGS), and University of South Florida (USF).
In 2006 as SNI continued to grow in numbers, a Diving Control Board (DCB) was established to oversee and ensure SNI SCUBA diving missions complied with the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) science research diving standards and practice. The DCB is comprised of volunteer diving safety experts from government, educational and private agencies and institutions.
In May 2007, NASA awarded a three year federal grant ($341,000) to SNI to (1) facilitate continued research, (2) promote direct interaction with scientists, and (3) establish new SNI Chapters around the nation. SNI began working with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) organization to support the exchange of SNI data to a global audience of scientists, teachers, and students.
Summer Expeditions & Operation: Deep Climb
Beginning in 2003, SCUBAnauts have spent their summers away from the Tampa Bay area allowing youth members to explore regions like the Florida Keys (2003, 2004, 2007-2017,), the Bahamas (2006, 2008), Jamaica (2008) Belize (2009, 2011) and Hawai’i (October 2007). These Summer Expeditions give nauts week long interaction with state and government researchers and science project experiences, challenging diving schedules, and personal challenges.
The goals of each of these trips is to engulf nauts in environmental and marine science education, learning advanced topics in coral reefs, fishery science, and geological history of the foreign terrain. Topics like these are combined with daily research diving (recording notes on fish and coral conditions underwater) giving a unique summer experience found only in SNI.
In October, 2007, SNI and Wild Life Productions, in partnership with the Explorer’s Club, the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL), NOAA, NASA, GLOBE, University of Hawaii at Manoa (SOEST), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, commenced a 3-phase expedition named OPERATION: DEEP CLIMB (ODC). The mission of ODC was to inspire a new generation of 21st Century explorers and promote a better scientific understanding of the universe and marine environment while achieving a genuine “first” for youth exploration.
SCUBAnauts International, America’s next generation of explorers, embarked on a 10-day expedition to Hawaii involving a 1,800-ft descent in a Pisces deep sea submersible that included the exploration of a Japanese midget submarine, the first vessel sunk on December 7, 1941, a mountain climb of 13,786 feet to the summit of the tallest mountain on earth “from base to peak,” Mauna Kea, and the unfurling of the ODC mission banner on the Space Shuttle, Endeavor (STS-123) , by mission commander, Dominic Gorie, in March 2008.
SNI has grown considerably in the Tampa Bay area, has received favorable notoriety nationally, and has been very successful in preparing and assisting participating youth through leadership opportunities producing successful citizens and leaders of tomorrow. SCUBAnauts operates four chapters in the Tampa Bay area in Tarpon Springs (Est. 2008), St. Petersburg (Est. 2010), Tampa (Est. 2014), and Sarasota (Est. 2017), but the close proximity of chapters gives improved collaboration with local scientist and diving professionals.
SNI looks forward to the challenge of increasing the opportunity for young explorers and leaders of tomorrow. These challenges are met by enlisting new members, recruiting top notch mentors, and continuing to establish new SNI Chapters nationwide and internationally.