Divers Can Do!

By Bonnie j. Cardone

Recounted herein is a success story; one in which divers decided something they valued had to be saved and found a way to do so.

California has a large population of divers because it offers a wide variety of places to dive. The Channel Islands, however, are the most dive popular areas. And, of the eight islands, Santa Catalina hosts more divers than all the rest. Thats because its only 26 (actually 22) miles across the sea from Los Angeles, population about 3.5 million plus.

Besides being the only Channel Island with a city (Avalon), Catalina is also the only one with a hyperbaric chamber, operational since 1974. Its in the heart of the diving action and there are no mountains to fly over;an important consideration when transporting bends victims.

Right off I should tell you that dive accidents are not legion here (or anywhere else, for that matter). Last year 20 divers arrived at the Catalina chamber and of those, 10 were treated. On the average the chamber sees 25 to 35 divers a year and treats about half of them.

You;and the vast majority of divers;will probably never need a chamber. If and when you do, however, immediate treatment can save your life and/or prevent serious injury. (I am convinced Im diving and living a normal life now because I was treated at the Catalina chamber 11 years ago.)

Jointly operated by the University of Southern California (its on the grounds of USCs Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at Big Fisherman Cove) and Los Angeles County, the chamber, which Ive already told you doesnt do a land office business, was in danger of losing its grant for several years in the late 1980s. And, if LA County terminated its funding, the chamber would have to close. Also, although the money allotted was insufficient, there was no chance of getting more. There is no fat to cut in the operation of this chamber; there are only one and a half paid employees. Most of the people who help run the chamber are unpaid volunteers. (Unsalaried but not unskilled, they undergo an extensive training course;which they pay to take!)

Eventually, divers got tired of worrying about funding and decided to take matters into their own hands. Thus was born Chamber Day. Held for the first time in 1989, Chamber Day is a twice yearly event. The May event benefits only the Catalina chamber; half of the monies raised by the September event go into the Los Robles chambers uninsured divers fund.

The premise of Chamber Day is simple; divers pay charter dive boats for a day of diving; the boats donate this money to the chamber. Dive companies donate equipment as prizes and more money is made with raffle tickets and selling such things as pins, mugs and T-shirts. On the May dive this year, 228 divers and 8 boats participated; the event netted $23,350. Since the chamber needs to raise about $50,000 each year, there are other benefits as well, including King Harbor and Avalon Harbor cleanup dives; the tuition for chamber training courses; individual donations; chamber tours; and a newly created Chocolate Star Dive. (Of course, although the premise is simple, organizing and running these events is a lot of work.

Ive focused on Southern California in this editorial because Ive watched Chamber Day evolve over the years, but divers here are not the only ones working for worthy causes. The point is, of course, that divers can make a difference when they work together. Among our ranks are inventive, creative, hard working people who can do almost anything they put their minds to. I salute them.