Diving the AOP: California Tropical Diving

I ran into a group of divers recently and asked them if they have been in the water lately. One had, but he lamented that the water was very, very cold. The others chimed in that they were waiting for warm water.

How sad that these divers were sitting on the sidelines because of a few degrees. Okay, to some, those degrees can mean the difference between a great dive and misery. But I have the answer for the diver who wants to be a year-round diver without ever leaving our beautiful state, and you can even wear a 3mm wetsuit. Sound nice?

Dale and I had the wonderful opportunity to dive in the Aquarium of the Pacific, located in Long Beach. We spent our time in the Tropical Pacific Gallery, which represents the beautiful marine life you would find off the coast of Palau. It’s a warm water 350,000-gallon tank fill with about 1,000 tropical fish, including turtles, a few varieties of sharks, and very curious puffers.

The day is very well structured and thought out and an incredible amount of fun. We were met in the lobby and escorted through the back alleys and passages of the Aquarium and made our way to the dive locker. The aquarium supplies all the equipment–100% supplied by Sherwood and Olympus. We figured out our sizes, changed in private dressing room and stowed our clothes in a locker. As we walked through the diver’s staging area, we were briefed on the duties and actions of the various volunteer divers busy doing their “work.”

We made our way through the back area of the Tropical Pacific Gallery. The area was filled with holding tanks for new fish, quarantined fish, and babies in various degrees of hatching from their eggs. Our tour guide and safety diver was Kim, extremely knowledgeable and patient with my constant questions.

As we prepared to go down the steps into the exhibit we were given some last minute information: “Don’t put your tank against the acrylic” (it will scratch the surface), and have fun. Dale took his own camera into the tank and I was given an underwater digital camera that took stills and video. Since Dale had his camera, I focused on the video for the trip. Our dive guide was there to help us if we needed it, remind us of any no-nos and to let us know when our time was up. As I got into the tank, I kept thinking that I would get bored diving in a confined tank for 50 minutes. Boy, was I wrong!

I was amazed at the warm 78-degree temperature, and also how many of the inhabitants greeted me. Remember, these are protected animals that are fed daily. Taking pictures was like shooting fish in a barrel. Well, maybe that is the wrong analogy, but you know what I mean.

We quickly found that the visitors on the other side like to see divers and are fascinated by us creatures that can breathe underwater. I think some of the kids like us more than the fish. I interacted with one little girl and played paper, rock scissors back and forth. Later on, I saw another little girl at the window and thought she would like to play a game. I quickly figured out that was not what she had in mind when she ran screaming to her mother as I approached her. Oops!

I have never, and will never, be able to experience one dive with so many different animals. The only one that appeared to be shy was the turtle that tucked his body down and under a ledge that was too difficult to photograph.

Before we knew it, our tour guide Kim tapped us on the shoulder, tapped her watch and it was over way too soon.

We got out, asked more questions and went back to the dive lockers. We were given souvenir towels, showered in private showers, changed and were given the memory card from the camera I used. Wow, what a day!

The Dive Immersion event is part of the Aquarium Education Program and is available daily. The program takes place from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., includes the personal behind the scenes tour, the 50-minute dive, certificate of completion, souvenir towel, use of the camera and the memory card to take home. All equipment is provided; however, you may bring your own camera. A minimum of openwater certification is required, with a maximum of four participants per day.

Cost is $299 and $279 for members. The cost is very reasonable and well worth the experience. Reservations can be made by calling 562-590-3100.

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