Swimming With The Fishes At The Aquarium Of The Pacific as presented by: Los Angeles Times

The dive is on. Ker-plash. We descend through bubbles into an undersea domain wearing air tanks, regulators and fins. Listening to the pneumatic hiss-whoosh of my own breathing, the various species of this marine world begin to appear. Sharks prowl sandy shoals. Bat rays with 4-foot wing spans soar overhead. Schools of fish whirl like glittering tornadoes. A Queensland grouper large enough to swallow me whole cruises past. Scuba sends people around the world. On this dive, however, I’m in the 350,000-gallon Tropical Reef Habitat at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach on assignment for the Los Angeles Times to chronicle, with underwater cameras, the daily experiences of the facility’s volunteer divers. These men and women help the aquarium by feeding animals, observing their behaviors and cleaning artificial rock and coral displays with equipment ranging from toothbrushes to power washers. Qualifications include that the divers be “rescue certified,” at least 18 years old and able to pass an American Academy of Underwater Sciences physical. In this dive, my first with members of the group, a swarm of giggling children gather in front of the massive tank designed to replicate a coral reef in the tropical dive Mecca of Palau, a group of islands west of the Philippines.

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