Educator Features

SCUBA Divers and Satellites
Divers near a coral reef
What do satellites and SCUBA gear have in common?

Both are tools used by a group of students who are studying the condition of coral reefs near Florida. SCUBA Scouts, a group of 12- to 18-year-old boys and girls from the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, are involved in a long-term project to monitor transplanted coral reefs in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Image to left: SCUBA Scout divers inspect a coral reef near Florida. Credit: NASA

Coral reefs provide a habitat for a diverse population of marine plants and animals. They also protect the coast from storms, and help form Florida's sandy beaches. Since the group's formation in 2001, the SCUBA Scouts have visited the reefs on a monthly basis to evaluate their condition and determine the impact human activities have had on the corals and their habitat. Working with the students are a variety of volunteers, including SCUBA instructors, marine biologists and government officials involved in marine sanctuary preservation.

In addition to their training in SCUBA techniques, the youths have learned the proper scientific procedures for collecting and analyzing the data used in their study. They record data such as water temperature and salinity, monitor fish populations and record conditions with photographs and video. The SCUBA Scouts also help the coral reefs recover when they are damaged. They transplant coral to damaged areas, working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of NOAA's Coral Rescue and Salvage program. The transplanted coral helps the reefs regenerate.

Astronaut eating dinner at table in front of underwater window
During the summer months, the SCUBA Scouts conduct underwater marine science projects in the Florida Keys. Recently, they visited Aquarius, the world's only undersea science laboratory, located 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) offshore, near Key Largo. The youths conducted a 15-meter (50-foot) dive to visit Aquarius and meet with the researchers staying in the habitat.

Image to right: Astronaut Michael Barratt was an "aquanaut" on NASA's NEEMO-7 crew. Credit: NASA

Aquarius is also used by NASA, which uses the underwater habitat to learn more about spaceflight. In the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program, astronauts live in the confined habitat of Aquarius, which in some way resembles living in the similarly confined habitat of a spacecraft. Through the program, astronauts learn more about living in space without leaving the Earth.

Satellite image of a reef near Florida
After meeting some of those astronauts during a visit to Aquarius, SCUBA Scouts leaders contacted NASA about the possibility of a partnership. When they found out about the scouts' coral reef program, NASA's Ames Research Center provided them with airborne imagery of the areas they are studying. The youths use the images to compare what can be seen from above with what they find at sea level and underwater. They also use them to track changes in the areas since the images were taken; in particular, the damage caused by the hurricanes that struck Florida last year.

Image to left: NASA Ames provided the scouts with airborne imagery of the reef sites. Credit: NASA

SCUBA Scout leader Dave Olson said that the partnership not only provided the SCUBA Scouts a new angle for looking at reef conditions, but it gave them a new understanding of the broad range of NASA's mission. He said that he hopes the two organizations can continue working together in the future.

Some of today's youths will be the ones to explore other worlds in the future, but the SCUBA Scouts show that you can make a difference in our world, today!

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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services