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Joanna Smart's January Photo Journal: An Our World Underwater Rolex Scholar Journey

It’s no secret that I am a kelp enthusiast. So when I was offered the opportunity to visit a selection of marine research centers and diving operations in California, I jumped at the chance to see some of the world’s best kelp forests.

I started my journey in San Francisco, where I traveled down to Monterey Bay and joined the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for a day out on R.V. Western Flyer. The objective of the trip was to deploy their deep-sea ROV, Doc Ricketts, for some underwater film work. From this trip, I learned a whole new use for underwater cameras – deep survey work! The ROV can operate up to 4,000 meters deep and has some pretty impressive cameras, which live stream back to the boat. I then joined Monterey Bay Aquarium to learn about their diving operation and the ins and outs of operating one of the world’s most respected aquariums. Diving in the aquarium was an amazing experience and I really enjoyed high-fiving kids through the aquarium glass!


From Monterey, I traveled south to Santa Barbara and dove the Channel Islands. The diving here was truly exceptional, I’ve never seen such healthy kelp forests. I was lucky enough to be joined on a dive by a friendly harbor seal, who was happy to pose in the kelp for some photos. I then headed to Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles to the USC Wrigley Institute. Here, I learned about their diving operations and the USC Hyperbaric chamber. This volunteer-run chamber has been looking after divers in Southern California for over 30 years.

In the kelp forests, I was able to really appreciate my Nauticam WWL-1. I had a great time practicing my close-focus wide-angle and the California marine environment provided no shortage of subjects. From seals to anemones, garibaldis, and octopus, the diving was beyond incredible!