Under Pressure: Swapping Life in an Office for Life Under the Sea
by Daniel Down
The New Office
A couple of weeks ago, we got a note from Daniel Down, an editor with Focus, the BBC’s Science and Technology magazine and fan of TheScuttlefish. It seems that, growing weary of a nine to five job in a Soviet-style London office building, Daniel had gone and done something rather rash. He’d decided to swing his rudder around 180 degrees, and seek his fortunes at sea with an organization called Blue Ventures. He’d soon be living in a hut, conducting research dives for a team of scientists studying the reefs of remotest Madagascar and working on a sustainable fisheries initiative in a huge new marine protected area. When Daniel approached us about writing for the experience, he wrote, “I want to make it more of an impression of what it’s like for a UK office worker like me to suddenly find himself living in a hut by the sea for two months and diving every day. I’m hoping to capture something existential that I haven’t experienced yet.”
How the hell could we say no to that? So here’s his first, of what we hope will be a fascinating series of online journals. That is, if he can get his dialup modem to work.
Read on for Part I. Under Pressure — CD
The Old Office. Something from Soviet Moscow – or Maybe A Clockwork Orange?
Come on in, the water’s lovely… and will make your lungs explode if you hold your breath ascending in the stuff too quickly. It’s a terrifying fact buried innocuously in my diving theory guide, which I’m reading after a long day in the office on a rainy day in England. The cramming has started a couple of weeks before I’m due to fly to Madagascar to take part in a marine conservation project where the scuba diving will begin in earnest. I’ll be submerged twice a day, six days a week for two-months. The journey should represent a sea-change (apologies) in my day-to-day life, living, as I will, in a simple hut on the beach and quite possibly spending more time in the ocean than out of it.
Lung explosion: your lungs can burst like a balloon, a particularly nasty way to meet one’s maker
I’ve dispatched this first entry of my travels using a fibre-optic broadband connection, a couple of hours before I board a Kenyan Airways flight to Madagascar. Once there it’s back to the days of dial-up modem connection speeds, which I’ll also be sharing with 17 other volunteers. How will I cope not knowing what’s going on in the wider world, as wars rage and economies fluctuate? All I’ll have to think about is charting my experiences and the next day’s diving.
Having a somewhat nervous disposition, the act of scuba diving sounds like the psychosomatic symptoms of anxiety made real – trying to control your breathing in a (literally) highly pressurised environment. And to cap it off you carry an industrial-looking gauge that tells you that you’re slowly running out of air – or how long you have left to live. Simply swim to the surface to alleviate said stressful situation you say? Well, rush this and you could fall foul of the aforementioned lung explosion. A comfy seat at an office desk is starting to seem more appealing.
An old-fashioned dive chart: oh for the days of an Excel spreadsheet…
Volunteers with Blue Ventures head to a village called Andavadoaka, a remote corner of Madagascar’s arid south-west coast, ten hours’ drive along a dirt road from the nearest town – I’ve never been so isolated. We’re there to study a coral reef system, helping to maintain a sustainable fishery for the local people that rely on it to feed their families. It’s also a hub of scientific research for marine biologists, who use hapless office workers like me to collect their data. I’m looking forward to seeing how people live from the sea, as the nearest I’ve come to gathering fish for my own survival is down my local fish-and-chip shop. What makes this whole thing acceptable for someone like me to participate in is that it is all managed by the community in partnership with Blue Ventures. Through this collaboration, the Indian Ocean’s largest community-managed marine protected area has been created – known as Velondriake, it means ‘to live with the sea’.
As I read in my guide how to deal with large, aggressive sharks and divers floating unconscious underwater, I feel like I’m on the cusp of a great, albeit dangerous adventure. Diving, I’m told, is one of life’s great experiences; the nearest you can get to floating in the abyss of space, with startlingly alien creatures for company. Master it, and you can glide effortlessly through a serene marine environment. One thing is for sure, swapping the pressures of 9 to 5 British life, with its endless deadlines, emails and mugs of instant coffee, for the pressure of a 30-metre column of water, is going to be interesting.