A veteran SCUBA instructor with a 12-year career as a public safety diver with the Anchorage Fire Department, scientific diving instructor Scott Anderson came to Anchorage in 1973 and joined Alaska Pacific University’s marine biology program in 2010.
Since then, he’s trained more than 1,100 students in introductory through advanced dive courses and seen more than a dozen APU students complete his class leading to certification as a scientific diver. Scott’s demonstrated commitment to diver education and conservation makes his classes a valuable addition to your skill set as you plan a marine biology career.
Q. Diving and teaching have taken you around the world, from submerged cave systems of north Florida to underwater World War II wrecks of Micronesia. How do Alaska waters compare? What’s there to see?
Because colder water holds more oxygen, Alaska waters have more plankton to sustain the many filter-feeder species that make our ocean environment some of the richest anywhere! My APU students and I often see favorites like sponge, tunicates, anemones, octopus, wolf eels, rockfish, ling cod and sea lions. Alaska’s emerald waters support varieties of jellies, encrusting algaes, crabs of all sorts, shrimp and sea stars as big as manhole covers.
While tropical waters are clear – allowing better visibility – they’re tend to lack nutrients to support a rich invertebrate community. Visibility might diminish to 40 feet or less in Alaska, but marine life here is so abundant you’ll have a hard time taking it all in.
Q: What does it take for a student who’s curious about diving to become a competent, safe scientific diver?
In addition to being comfortable in and around the water, student divers must complete a 200-yard swim test and be in good health. Scientific diving is a substantial investment in time and money; safe divers will dedicate themselves to training to develop good skills.
Q. Just how cold is the cold-water diving that APU students do in your classes?
Wintertime diving can be 40 degrees. That’s brisk. But with modern fibers and plenty of layering, divers manage to stay pretty warm. Speaking of warm: Alaska waters can reach 60 degrees in summer months – and in a dry suit, that feels almost balmy.
Q. You’re committed to keeping diving in Alaska safe and rewarding. Tell us about the Smitty’s Cove mapping project you’re organizing in Whittier, Alaska. APU students training with you often dive in Whittier, right?
Yes. An important goal of the scientific dive program at APU is to put a student’s new skills to use in the real world, and that means collecting and publishing meaningful data.
My students and I are focusing on Smitty’s Cove, at the western edge of Prince William Sound and about 60 miles south of Anchorage. So far, we’ve used underwater compasses, measuring tapes, line reels and diver-towed GPS to gather data.
Our second phase is to photograph meaningful underwater features as an overlay to the basic bathymetry. We want to publish a map of the cove for local divers.
Q. You teach courses through PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors); TDI (Technical Diving International); and ERDI (Emergency Response Diving International), among a few others. When you have lots of others teaching outlets, what draws you to APU and keeps you here as our Dive Safety Officer?
My APU student divers often come from states other than Alaska – they might never even have seen snow, let alone dived in it! The enthusiasm and excitement I see in my APU students when they discover a newfound ability to explore the underwater realm is something that’s truly gratifying.
My job is to train students by introducing them to some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of their young lives. What I hope APU students gain from my courses is a love of diving, a dedication to safety, and a conviction that good divers are good stewards of our marine environment.
Q. What kinds of professions are open to qualified scientific divers?
APU students who reach scientific diver status are qualified for work with aquariums, federal and state agencies, university dive programs and fisheries. But that’s only a start!
My own career is great example. I’m a former city fire fighter who went on to own my own dive shop – complete with dive boat. And I teach at APU, Alaska’s only four-year private liberal arts school. At this stage in my career, I consider myself a teacher as a much as a diver.