Long Beach to Palau, in less than a few hours? I didn’t know the Concord was flying again!
Actually, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach offers a great way to enjoy tropical diving in the morning, and still be home in time for dinner.
The Aquarium began inviting divers to “dive in” to their Dive Immersion program in June 2010. The program is open to anyone holding an openwater certification and is 15 years old or older.
The Aquarium’s largest exhibit is modeled after the famed Blue Corner of Palau. Over 350,000 gallons of crystal blue water awaits, and over a thousand tropical reef fish, sharks, rays, and even a Queensland grouper call this massive tank home. The program allows up to four divers a day to enter the exhibit while accompanied by their own Divemaster.
The tour begins with a behind the scenes orientation of the facility and its extensive husbandry program. If you’re like me and must know what happens behind the scenes, then this is for you. You’ll tour the labyrinth of hallways and labs, pipes and filtration systems. Bubbling beakers and tanks of various juvenile fish line the walls and hallways. In the food prep area, the menu extensive, as the sea lions and assorted fish all have different diets. As for the herbivores, they enjoy a healthy diet of romaine lettuce and broccoli – who knew?
The guide explains that the introduction of foreign animals and or objects needs to be closely monitored to keep the tanks clean and free from bacteria. Testing the water daily is required, and constant cleaning is done each day by teams of volunteer divers. It’s for that reason that the aquarium fits you with everything you need to enjoy your dive, including a wetsuit, BC, fins and gloves (they do allow you to bring your own mask). The Aquarium even provides a camera, and gives you the memory card to keep and take home.
We slip into the tank deflate our BC’s and slowly descend. The water is warm and inviting, and the colors pop with vibrant ambient light. Drifting downward the manmade reef system is so realistic that I’m nervous about getting too close to the magnificent table corals. The giant trevallies, Zebra sharks and bonnet hammerheads, twist-tailed and cow nose rays all cruise around the reefs. After a few minutes, I realize I need to start shooting photos. As I follow the barracuda around the tank, I spot a massive Queensland grouper being cleaned under a coral head, and as I settle to the bottom, the trigger fish make me aware of their toothy presence with a quick nibble and peck. Next, a giant Southern Ray comes right into my mask for a close look and wants to be my friend – incredible!
Just to add to the experience, my guide slowly approaches the massive acrylic window of the exhibit. Children are lined up at the glass to peek into Nemo’s world and see a real life scuba diver in action, and they jump up and down waving and giving us high-fives. The dive is slated to last an hour, but the time seems to fly as my guide signals me to surface.
After a quick shower, we discuss the experience and tour the exhibits, then watch the trained volunteers in action as the prepared lunch is served. Hand feeding is an essential part of the strict control asserted here in keeping the tanks and fish healthy.
I was lucky enough to dive the tropical experience on this trip but they also have a California tank with Giant Black Sea Bass and huge White Sea Bass, kelp, eels and more. The California exhibit is a mockup of the famed Sea Fan Grotto of Catalina Island and while the water is much cooler in that tank, it is just as beautiful if not more impressive then the tropics.
The Aquarium of the Pacific’s immersion program experience is so much more than just a quick dive. The volunteers are genuinely happy and excited to share what they do, and it shows. The facility is immaculate, the dive is incredible, and there’s no better opportunity to bring your kids down to see you diving underwater.
More information on visiting and diving the Aquarium of the Pacific can be found on their website site by clicking here:
Now go have an adventure!
If you go:
- Cost: $299 per person, $279 for members
- A minimum of an open water certification from a nationally recognized scuba certifying agency and a picture I.D. are required, and must be brought with you on your diving day.
- Ages: 15 and up. Divers 15-17 also require a supervising adult to sign up for the dive with them.
- Availability: Daily, 3:00-5:30pm
- Group size: 4 participants maximum
- Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance by calling 562-590-3100, ext. 0. Walk-ups will be accepted only if the program is already booked that day and space is available.
Words & Photos by Mike Bartick