Science for Everyone

Kettle Cove State Park

Underwater, Where it's Dry

Post by Scallop Research Intern, Bailey Moritz

When you’re in a tropical place like the Caribbean, there’s nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in the sun-warmed, 80 degree water. But for those of us doing underwater research in Maine, where even summer water temperatures don’t typically exceed 60 degrees, submerging yourself in the water can be somewhat less enjoyable. That’s where dry suits come in. Available in a variety of materials, they are essentially like a loose, thick bag worn over a layer of cozy fleece. Throughout the dive, you add air to the suit both to adjust your buoyancy and to keep you warm. Your body heats up the air that gets trapped in the undergarment and acts as insulation. The air moves around in the suit, eventually venting from a valve on the shoulder when needed. Properly adjusted neck and wrist seals are critical so that the suit doesn’t leak.

Dry suits allow a diver to keep diving into the winter and early spring when water temperatures and surface conditions would be really treacherous to experience in a wet suit. Dives can also be longer in cold water because you aren’t experiencing the direct cold of the frigid water. This makes dry suit diving a good alternative for commercial fishermen diving for scallops or urchins here in Maine. And if you ever have the desire to dive in the Arctic, a dry suit is a must!

In order to add to our diving repertoire, Cait and I just completed a dry suit certification with Aqua Academy in Portland. Our instructor Jim Dock took us to Kettle Cove State Park for our first dry suit experience. Beautiful and varied kelp swayed in the shallow current, revealing lobster, hermit crabs, and several small rock fish. Tiny periwinkles clutched to eelgrass as we made our way out with the tide. Other than being a bit more difficult to remain neutrally buoyant at first, the suits worked great. And its hard to describe the unnatural feeling of the fuzzy fleece reminding you that even 20 ft below the surface, you aren’t at all wet! Of course, as we maneuvered out of the suits and packed up gear on shore, it started to rain. So much for staying totally dry!

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