By Bill Gleason

There's some new and very interesting developments in the area of diving safety and medicine; this month's editorial will be dedicated to sharing these developments with you. But first, a little background information that will help you understand why these developments are needed.

Historically, the diving world has relied heavily on other institutions (particularly the U.S. Navy and other navies around the world) to undertake huge, very costly studies that supply us with the basic medical information and guidelines we need to dive safely. First and foremost in the history of diving was the development of the U.S. Navy's famous dive tables, on which several generations of divers relied to dive safely. These tables also provided basic research into hyperbaric medicine and laid the cornerstone for much of diving medicine, or hyperbaric medicine, as we know it today.

In a perfect world, such peacetime applications of naval research would continue and divers would continue to enjoy the benefits. However, as everyone knows, it is not a perfect world and, sorry to say, that kind of research (into new tables and exploring new frontiers of diving activity) will not be forthcoming in the near future. The navy, it turns out, has done just as much cost cutting and downsizing as any other large business; hyperbaric medical research, which would have been valuable to recreational divers, is no longer part of its agenda. Ditto with other large non-profit organizations that might have been interested in picking up the slack. About the only people who might be willing to do diving research, it now turns out, are divers! And, even as an industry, we don't have the money to fund the projects necessary to research better ways to dive.

Part of the reason research is not high on anyone's agenda is that not many people are getting bent. Indeed, there were less than 1,000 cases last year. Nearly all of these victims of decompression illness (DCI) were able, with the help of trained chamber staffs, to make a full recovery. Since divers in the U.S. make a minimum of 10 million dives a year (and that is a very conservative estimate), getting hit by lightning is more common than getting bent! Some feel we can't completely eliminate the bends without eliminating diving and they may be right. However, even though the numbers of bends and arterial gas embolism cases are very small, we should still be trying to make diving even safer than it already is.

In any case, ongoing research into better and more enjoyable diving should not be sacrificed just because large institutions have lost the funding to do the job for us. And, it turns out, the answer to this dilemma may be no farther away than your personal dive computer! Dive computers, which have become commonplace over the last ten years, are increasingly able to store all of the data about every dive made: time and date of dive, descent rate, ascent rate and bottom time. This is just the type of data the navy used to collect on its divers (who do not resemble recreational divers at all). If we can find some way to get the information out of the individual dive computers and into the experts' hands, the data will tell us some truly amazing things about the way we actually dive. (The way we actually dive is quite different from the way we say we dive). Important information on safety and future dive enjoyment may be gleaned from such data.

For the next year, Project Dive Exploration will begin to collect electronic dive computer data from recreational divers and instructors all around the world. During this same time, scientists and researchers will be poring over the data to pinpoint exactly what recommendations they can offer for safer and more enjoyable diving. This could be very good news for all ocean explorers and a boon to diving safety.

This project can only be accomplished through a combined industry coalition of equipment manufacturers, dive retailers, resorts, live-aboards and certification agencies. It is, indeed, refreshing to see just how many companies are willing to use their resources to help us all understand more about diving medicine and about the way divers actually dive.

Project Dive Exploration is being coordinated by the Divers Alert Network (DAN). It also has the full support of SKIN DIVER and you may look forward to frequent updates in coming issues as well as notification of opportunities for you to participate. The success of the project will hinge on your personal cooperation and help as we transfer the data from your dive computer to a mainframe.

So for now, please keep logging those dives electronically and we'll get around to asking you to share that information with us in the near future. It will be a valuable contribution to future and present generations of divers.