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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why Sea TREK? Q and A with Carl Hanson

Sea TREK is an active member of several social communities. Our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts let us connect with our “fans” and encourage Sea TREK participation.  

Occasionally, we receive questions from followers regarding TREKking, and one question continues to arise- “Why Sea TREK when you could scuba dive instead?”

We brought this question, and a few other related queries, to our resident fish nerd, Carl Hanson, Director of Sea TREK Water Operations and Safety. Here’s what Carl had to share:

Q: What are the differences between diving and Sea TREK? Why not “just scuba,” instead of TREKking?

C: Diving is for people who already know they will enjoy being underwater; and it requires a special skill set and certifications. Sea TREK is geared toward people who may have never experienced being underwater. Some divers enjoy Sea TREK with their friends and family who are non-divers– so they can experience being underwater together!

Q: How is it possible to Sea TREK if you cannot swim? Aren’t you underwater?

C: Sea TREK is an underwater walking experience. The weighted helmets keep TREKkers on the sea floor. Guests begin the tour by getting in the water, shoulder deep. The method of getting the helmets on may differ by location (ladder, staircase, or beach), but participants never have to swim.

Q: How can I be sure I won’t run out of air during my TREK?

C: Operations using Air Centers have redundancies and backup air supplies in case of power loss. The minimum amount of backup air they must have on hand is enough to completely run a standard tour from start to finish. Some helmets are supplied directly from scuba air cylinders. The air flow into these helmets is calibrated to 1.7 cubic feet per minute (roughly 3 times the amount of air you need to breathe). Tours times are adjusted based on the size of cylinders. A typical 80 cubic foot cylinder at 3,000 PSI will last roughly 53 minutes. However, the operator knows the tour cannot exceed 25 minutes. This is to make sure the guest will never have an out of air situation. In other words, it just doesn’t happen!

Q: Do I need to equalize like a diver?

C: Yes and no. When descending into the water, you may feel pressure in your ears. You can equalize (clear) your ears the same way a diver would. Wiggle your jaw, swallow saliva, or pinch your nose and try to blow air out of your nose.
Equalizing your ears in a Sea TREK helmet is similar to being on an airplane. You can do all the same methods as a scuba diver, and you have the advantage of yawning to relieve the pressure. 

Q: How deep do Sea TREKkers go, compared to divers?

C: The maximum depth of a Sea TREK tour is 30 feet (about 9 meters, 1 atmosphere). However, most Sea TREK locations operate between 12 and 18 feet of depth (approximately 3.5 to 5 m, less than 1 atmosphere). 

Q: Can I get decompression sickness from Sea TREK? When can I fly after my TREK?

C: Yes, any time you are submerged underwater and breathing compressed air decompression sickness (DCS) can occur. The likelihood of DCS occurring to a Sea TREK participant is very low. Our Sea TREK standards ensure that participants never go deeper than 30 feet, nor do they stay under for more than 30 minutes. Also, we require all guests tot fill out a medical questionnaire before embarking on a tour, to ensure their safety.

Since our operators conduct shallow tours for short periods of time, the no-fly window is shorter than a normal scuba dive (4 hours minimum is required post-TREK, before flying). 

Q: What about scary sea life?

C:  Many operators use Sea TREK to educate people that sea life isn’t really scary! Stingrays are a common animal found at most Sea TREK locations. While other locations allow guests to interact with local sharks and eels. The Sea TREK guides have built bonds with these animals, similar to the bond you build with your dog, cat, bird, or whatever animals you have at home.

The ocean and its inhabitants are delicate and for many people “out of sight, out of mind.” Sea TREK brings non-divers into a place that the scuba community has been trying to bring awareness to for years. With more eyes on the world’s oceans, we can educate and improve the ocean environment and encourage conservation efforts.

Thank you, Carl, for sharing your knowledge of Sea TREK and answering the frequently asked question, “Why not just scuba?”

If you would like more information about Sea TREK helmet diving, or would like to find a location, go to  You can even chat with us live during normal business hours!

Carl Hanson is the Director of Sea TREK Water Operations and Safety at Sub Sea Systems, Inc.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sensational and Stunning Stingrays!

Who glides through the ocean with the greatest of ease? The spectacular stingray, that’s who! These comely creatures are popular to aquarium visitors and divers alike, due to their elegant appearance and friendly dispositions.

While they may not resemble your finned friends in your tank at home, stingrays belong to a group of fish called elasmobranchs. There are around 200 different stingray species in total, and fossil records suggest that rays date back to the Jurassic period, 150 million years ago. They are unique in that they have no bones in their body – their skeleton is made up of cartilage (the flexible stuff that your ears and nose are made from!). Because of this, stingrays are closely related to sharks, as well as another kindred spirit, the manta ray.

Stingrays aren’t just ocean dwellers, they can be found in lakes and rivers alike. They feed on crustaceans, small fish, snails, clams and other small creatures. They use a super set of senses to search for food. Special gel-filled pits across the front of their face, (called Ampullae of Lorenzini), allow them to pick up electrical signals from other animals when they move. Their eyes are on the topside of their body and their mouth and gills can be found underneath, so in the darker depths or murky rivers, this electromagnetic sense is especially useful for searching for prey. They uncover prey by blowing water out through their mouths and flapping their "wings" over the sand. Like sharks, rays have a conveyor belt of teeth that will constantly be replaced throughout their lifetime.

Baby stingrays are born fully developed and look like miniature versions of adult animals. They are fully proportioned, and are naturally good swimmers from birth. This helps them find food on their own right away, though mothers still stick around to provide protection until around age three or so. Did we mention they also look like cute raviolis?

Stingrays are known for the barbs on their tails, but they are actually very docile and social creatures. They can be found individually, in pairs, or in loose groups (called a “fever”). If threatened, they can raise their tails like a scorpion and stab predators with their venomous barb. However, they are more likely to swim away from predators. Normally, they act kind and gentle around humans. Our Sea TREK operator at Xcaret in Cancun, Mexico can attest to the friendliness of rays. Local resident, Stubby the Stingray, loves socializing with TREKKERs! Named Stubby due to her short tail (perhaps lost in a battle with an envious shark), Stubby swims around divers and guests on a daily basis, just for the fun of it!

Sadly, numbers of stingrays are in decline. Overfishing, habitat loss and climate change are the major threats to rays. They are also hunted for their gill rakers (used for feeding), for use in Chinese medicine. Currently, 107 species stingrays are classified as threatened. Fortunately, a number of organizations are working to protect stingrays from their threatened status.  The Leonardo DiCaprio foundation supports the protection of stingrays and sharks through a collaborative partnership with several other conservation groups. Read about their efforts here. Additional strategies to protect rays are being developed via the Global Priorities for Conserving Sharks and Rays program. Read about the program here. 

If you’d like to meet a stingray and experience firsthand their docile and friendly demeanor, sign up for the Sea TREK with stingrays program at one of our facilities:

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

2017 Reef Alliance Award Winner

Each year, Reef Alliance (a conservation program sponsored by Sub Sea Systems) and its partners participate in the International Coastal Cleanup, a conservation effort founded by the Ocean Conservancy. This worldwide cleanup event resulted in over 18 million pounds of trash removed from beaches, oceans, waterways and coastal areas in 2017 alone! Read the 2017 report here.

The International Coastal Cleanup is just one of many volunteer events that Reef Alliance members participated in throughout 2017. Members also focused on conservation, education and proactive efforts within the community. In recognition of this hard work, Reef Alliance selects one member as the recipient of the annual Reef Alliance Award. We are proud to announce that OdySea Aquarium is the recipient of the 2017 Reef Alliance Award.

OdySea Aquarium, located in Scottsdale, Arizona hosted and participated in multiple cleanup events throughout the year. Their team worked hard to keep debris and recyclables out of our waterways and oceans.

OdySea contributed to a number of presentations and programs involving local grade schools and universities, such as a STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) Pro Live! Broadcast, and a conservation presentation at the University of Arizona. These remarkable efforts sought to educate children and adults alike about the challenges our waterways and their inhabitants face, and the ways in which we can all contribute to maintaining a healthy ocean environment through conservation and sustainability.

OdySea also hosted its first annual Conservation Expo, featuring local rescue organizations and sustainability groups. Over 20 local organizations were part of the event, including the PhoenixHerpetological SocietyLiberty WildlifeArizona Game & FishThe PhoenixZooAudubon Arizona, and the Center for Native & Urban Wildlife. At the expo, the team debuted a 15-foot hammerhead shark that was created out of more than 2,500 recycled plastic bottles, aiming to spread awareness about the amount of plastic that goes into our oceans. Approximately 7,000 future conservationists attended the free event!

Sub Sea Systems is proud to honor OdySea Aquarium’s commitment to supporting a variety of programs at the local, regional, and global levels, to educate and inspire guests about aquatic life and conservation. Read more about OdySea’s efforts here. OdySea will receive a beautiful trophy and marketing materials to assist in promotion of the award.

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