August 11, 2017

SCUBA diving in the Kelp Forest Exhibit

I found the best visibility in Monterey Bay, and it’s inside the kelp forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium! Photo: Rachel Kahn © MBARI 2017

 Mike (left) and me in the kelp forest. Photo courtesy Mary Powell

Hi, readers! This is Rachel, a software engineering intern here at MBARI. I hope you haven’t gotten sick of me yet, because I am so excited to share another underwater adventure with you!

I have been working hard all summer to go from software engineering zero to hero, but in the wise words of my internship mentor, Mike: “All work and no play does not make a good software engineer!”

Last week, an opportunity arose for me to dive inside the kelp forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Yes, you read that right—inside a humongous, glorious fish tank teeming with local life, including a wolf eel, a giant sea bass, and leopard sharks (my favorite). If you don’t live around Monterey, you can check out the kelp forest exhibit on the Aquarium’s live video stream. 

I spy a leopard shark! Photo: Rachel Kahn © MBARI 2017

The best part about diving inside an aquarium is that ideal conditions are practically guaranteed. From one end of the tank, I could see all the way to the other end (when a school of anchovies wasn’t blocking my view); from the surface, I could see the sandy bottom 8.5 meters (28 feet) below. This was a notable improvement over the mere couple meters’ worth of visibility we had last time in the bay.

Excellent visibility in the Kelp Tank. Photo: Rachel Kahn © MBARI 2017

My mentor, Mike, was there too. An MBARI software engineer extraordinaire, Mike has been a volunteer diver at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for over thirty years!

Mike feeds a hungry bass. Photo: Rachel Kahn © MBARI 2017


 High-fiving a young Aquarium visitor. Photo courtesy Mary Powell

There was a large audience watching Mike feed the fish, which I could see clearly through the window. It was such a neat change of perspective for me to see the aquarium from the fish’s point of view. I made sure to give kids high-fives through the window as I passed by. They looked so excited!

Even an interaction as small as a high-five with a real-life SCUBA diver could inspire a kid to want to become an oceanographer, so I didn’t want to miss my chance to spark a new generation of marine explorers and conservationists.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have the opportunity to dive in the kelp forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this summer. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to obtain a physics degree or land an internship at MBARI, either. Just because a goal or dream seems intangible doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth working toward. Somebody has to get these opportunities or else they wouldn’t exist, so why shouldn’t that somebody be you?

Happy diving!

Dive safety officer James (left), Mike, and me. Thank you so much to Mike, James, and Andrew for making this dive possible. Seriously, I can’t thank you enough. Photo courtesy of Mary Powell

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