SCHOLARSHIP DIARYThe Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society is a non-profit, educational organisation whose mission is to promote educational activities associated with the underwater world. It has offered scholarships for over 35 years.

Photograph by Hannah Forsthuber
This summer, I spent the months of August and September in Southern Finland in the Tvarminne Zoological Research Station taking part in Occupational Scientific Diver Training in the Finnish Scientific Diving Academy.

The course was a combination of classroom lectures, practical diving and report writing. We began in August with general diving skills, working out kinks with buoyancy control, back finning and learning new equipment set-ups like diving with fullface masks and surface tether lines.

We also had training sessions on equipment servicing, like how to find the leaks and patch a drysuit or how to know which O-ring needs changing in a first stage. Specialists came to the station to cover several topics, and we were lucky to have training from a leading hyperbaric doctor on basic life support and first aid, oxygen and advanced oxygen administration and how to conduct on-site numerological exams for divers with suspected DCS.

Soon we moved onto scientific diving techniques - transects, quadrats, video and photo data collection, photogrammetry, sediment coring of various types, lift bags, air lifts, kautsky quadrats and more. Each day we were covering a new data collection technique, theory and implementation.

We also spent time learning boat handling and built up our independence during the course until we could each navigate the intricacies of the Hanko archipelago. Which, partly due to the numerous small islands and underwater rock formations, is well known for its huge number of historical wrecks. Due to the low salinity of the area many of these wrecks are incredibly well preserved, dating back to the 17th century.

In addition to the practical diving, we had plenty of writing to do. Each evening in groups we developed our own diving policy and procedures, we wrote risk assessments for scientific diving and emergency action plans. In this way we experienced every aspect of planning, developing and implementing our own scientific diving operation.

Towards the end of the course, we were given various assignments, like research questions that we then had to develop a hypothesis, data collection and diving plan and write up a short thesis style report. During this period of group work I was involved in a habitat mapping project, where we surveyed a seagrass (Zostera marina) habitat using a new underwater GPS technology called a UWIS. This technique involves deploying three buoys which take GPS information and use a process called triangulation to locate the diver unit. This is achieved via ultrasound underwater. After deploying the buoys, we brought an underwater modified tablet and UWIS tracker and were able to use the tablet while on the dive to record GPS data for edges and patches of seagrass.

We were hoping to locate an area within the seagrass meadow for the deployment of a new permanent data recorder buoy. MONICoast is a coastal monitoring system of buoys around the Hanko Peninsula which record temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH and turbidity. Based on the data we collected and our GPS location proposal report, a new MONICoast sensor buoy is set to be installed at the proposed site in the seagrass meadow.

During the course we also carried out two other projects, one studying the diversity of epifaunal growth on various marine substrates, shipwrecks and submarine cables as compared to natural rock formations. Our third project was also focused on a sessile (unmoving) benthic (seafloor) species, blue mussels (Mytilus edulis). We collected mussels from a variety of depths and compared their abundance and size distribution. Each of these projects had their own challenges, but each time we overcame these there was a huge sense of achievement. Without a doubt, learning in this hands-on way will be invaluable when it comes to setting up my own independent research projects.

My time in Finland was filled with growth and learning. I am excited to have found such a beautiful corner of the world, I hope to someday return and continue conducting underwater science there.