AAUS divers testing skills in Alpena

News Photo by Jordan Spence Bill Power of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Department tries on a dry suit for the first time as he jumps in the dive tank at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center Wednesday in Alpena.

ALPENA — Even with 30 years of experience some divers with the American Academy of Underwater Sciences never tried their skills in freshwater … until this week.

“I think some of them were impressed with what you can see in the freshwater environment as far as the shipwreck preservation compared to saltwater. Some of them were shocked by the temperature of the lake,” National Park Service and Diving Officer Steven Sellers said.

About 130 divers are in Alpena this week for the annual AAUS Diving for Science Symposium. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Maritime archaeologist Phil Hartmeyer said AAUS is a network of diver organizations from all over the world.

“They help network, connect with each other, provide regulations that allow us to do that work underwater,” Hartmeyer said.

As a part of this week’s activities the divers tested out vendor gear in the dive tank. The 500,000 gallon tank was updated before the symposium.

“We took everything out that was used in the paper mill process and filled it with water for divers in there. A few years ago this incredible deck was added for the ROV competition that took it up to another level. Now with the filtration system added, it’s a really nice system,” sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray said.

The new filtration system cost about $100,000 and was paid for by a grant from the Besser Foundation.

Besser Foundation board Secretary Gary Dawley said the foundation was happy to give the sanctuary the grant request.

“The foundation granted the request primarily because it provides significant economic impact to Alpena. So it allows them to bring divers in here today,” Dawley said.

Sanctuary visitor experience specialist Andrew Augustyn said the new filtration system filters about 700 gallons of water a minute.

“It filters the entire pool in about 11 hours. It’s about 450,000 gallon tank. If it’s filled to the top it’s about 500,000,” Augustyn said.

After this week the tank will be used by local students for different purposes, Hartmeyer said.

“We have an incredible education program to use the tank all the way from pre-K to community college and beyond. They’re using home build PVC on ROVs, using STEM education and developing engineering skills and teamwork skills. We’re bringing them into the big tank working together; students helping students, mentored and monitored by folks in our facility and around the region,” Hartmeyer said.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at jspence@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.