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Take Only Pictures, Leave At Most Bubbles? The Case for Wreck Preservation

Should artifacts be removed and recovered from shipwrecks, or should our underwater cultural heritage be left undisturbed, and if so, under what circumstances? These are the questions that Finnish CMAS instructor, and scientific diver Rupert Simon seeks to answer based on directives from UNESCO’s 2001 Convention and several governments and training agencies.



Text and photos by Rupert Simon unless noted. Header image: Anchor of Plussa in front of the maritime museum in Mariehamn, Åland, Finland.

“Underwater cultural heritage” means all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical, or archaeological character which have been partially or totally underwater, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years…” UNESCO 2001 Convention, Art. 1 para. 1(a)

 Many years back, a fellow diver proudly showed me an amphorae (likely Roman) he had salvaged from a wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. Relatively recently, I watched a video in which a diver brings up an intact porthole from the bottom of the Baltic. Last December, I saw photos in a scuba blog that showed divers presenting their trophies—amongst them was a self-described “… avid collector of shipwreck artifacts.” These examples show that collecting artifacts from shipwrecks, which are de-facto archaeological sites of cultural heritage, is still common. I can’t help but wonder how the habit of collecting items from wrecks for personal benefit applies to the preservation goals taught throughout all main international scuba diving certification bodies. 

Uluburun wrecksite, Kas, Turkey.

As an example, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) states on its webpage that, “Exploring, observing, and documenting the underwater environment is critical to protecting it from threats, deliberate or inadvertent, and thereby helping conserve our aquatic heritage for future generations.”

Also, the World Confederation of Underwater Activities (CMAS) demands, “Respect for Environment and Cultural Heritage,” and, “Commercial or personal interests do not justify negatively affecting the environment or the underwater cultural heritage sites.” Of course, the education and certification bodies are not responsible for the actions of the diver once certified—we are. When reminding treasure-hunters that we were asked not to touch anything while in training, a response like “There are so many and these few don’t really matter,” or “They’ve been there for such a long time, and no one really bothered to take care of them,” seems logical. However, this perception does not withstand the reality check described below. So, what’s the problem? 

The Problem

Removing artefacts interferes with archaeological research

Archaeologists and other scientists study wreck sites to gain information about the lives of our ancestors. When we remove artefacts from their contexts, some information goes with them. But, even more information is lost without the context—the exact place where the item was in relation to other artefacts or the whole site. Therefore, archaeologists document their work meticulously. On top of that, the treasure hunter may have chosen the one item that carries critical information that leads to the identification, dating or historical context of the whole site. 

A good example is the recent excavations on the Gribshunden wreck in Sweden. One of the first items recovered was the figurehead—”the monster”—which probably would be a tempting trophy. Leaving aside the cumbersome conservation required for such artifact, the identification of the wreck would have been much more difficult without it. Niklas Erikson explained the situation at the site in 2015 and, during the discussion, the experts were worried that even a careful scientific excavation using paint brushes to keep details intact would tamper with the find (see the documentary “The Ship That Changed the World,” 2021). How much worse is the impact on such a site when taking items from a wreck with a treasure hunter approach, without considering the impact on other artefacts? Divers randomly retrieving artefacts from sunken ships do interfere with the work of archaeologists, experts, and museums collecting information for the common good. 

Impact on Other Divers

Remaining gun of the cannon side wreck, Porkkala, Kirkkonummi, Finland.

Other stakeholders include fellow wreck divers. For the diver, diving on wrecks is not necessarily connected to history. It can be driven by interest in aesthetic impression, fun, adventure, or the marine life that has taken up residence in the artificial reef. Many wreck divers simply partake  just to enjoy the underwater world. As such, the age of the site is irrelevant. 

I personally like to dive a site in Finland called “Stor Träskön tykkijolla.” The site contains a large piece from the side of a Russian two-deck line ship. Divers of our club—Nousu—reportedly saw two cannon barrels on the site. Despite many searches and to my great disappointment, I found only one. We all know that time changes everything, but consciously removing items from the seabed interferes with the experiences of other sport divers . Although I was informed that the missing gun barrel has been found, it lost its original historical value as it has been removed from its context without documentation. Why not leave things in place so we all can benefit from them? 

Ship’s bell of Helge, Åland, Finland

UNESCO Underwater Heritage Convention 

In its 31st session on the second November of 2001, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation acknowledged “the importance of underwater cultural heritage as an integral part of the cultural heritage of humanity and a particularly important element in the history of peoples, nations, and their relations with each other concerning their common heritage.” They signed a document known as The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The scope of the Convention protects all artefacts submerged underwater for 100 years or more. The Annex of the Convention contains ethical and scientific guidelines for activities within underwater cultural heritage sites. A detailed manual accompanies these documents.

Besides that, the sunken objects “may have a private or public owner, may be a marine peril—for navigation or for the environment—or deserve to be protected or managed for other reasons, for example as artificial reefs which became ecosystems, or marine gravesites transformed into venerated places,” Prof. Mariano J. Aznar of Spain writes in a special edition of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). ICOMOS is a non-governmental international organisation dedicated to the conservation of the world’s monuments and sites. 

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It follows that the introduced time limit of 100 years or older as criterion for protection is arbitrary. History is happening as we speak:  Thus,  a recently sunken item or ship can contain cultural heritage value. For example, remains of World War II mark history and should be considered and protected as heritage, too. Prominent examples for underwater heritage sites are Tirpitz in Lofoten, Norway; the HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow, Scotland; the MS Wilhelm Gustloff, MS Goya and SS Steuben in the Baltic Sea, Poland. All names represent tragic events and losses of human lives. Collecting items from wrecks is not just bad practice but illegal

The Finnish Example

In Finland, the Finnish Antiquities Act implementing the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Convention protects ships or other artifacts that have sunk 100 years ago or more. The Finnish Heritage Agency and the Finnish Coast Guard work together to enforce the law. The authorities prevailed in a  case involving the cargo vessel Vrouw Maria carrying goods ordered by Katharine the Great, Empress of Russia. In other cases, lawsuits are ongoing.

Anchor ring of Kronprins Gustav Adolf, Helsinki, Finland.

The Spanish Example

Spain’s interest in protecting the remains of its medieval and early modern fleet vessels has significantly increased during the last few decades. Spain has pursued—and won— several litigation cases in national and international courts. These cases indicate that underwater objects are rarely  abandoned, but rather lost and still legally owned. Removing items from such sites cannot be considered salvage but theft. The main uncertainties around remains of Spanish warships may be in cases where the vessel sank in waters no longer under Spain’s jurisdiction. When Colombia became independent, it inherited the Spanish belongings in its territory. Does this apply to the San José, nicknamed the Holy Grail of Shipwrecks, which sank in now-Colombian waters?  Is the wreck and treasure of the San José the property of Spain or Columbia? Does this really matter today? The ship sank more than 100 years ago and could as such be considered part of the world’s cultural heritage. It would be perhaps the best option that Spain and Colombia join forces and make the find available to the broad public using proper scientific approaches. The Convention suggests so.   

Looking into one of the gun barrels of Kronprins Gustav Adolf, Helsinki, Finland
Capstan of the SMS Cöln, Scapa Flow, UK

The Example of the United Kingdom 

David Cleasby, a British maritime archaeologist, told me a story of a modern anchor found by a diver near the historical wreck of the HMS Pomone, a 38-gun Frigate built in 1805 and lost in 1811 in Alum Bay, Isle of Wight. According to the Guidance from 2012—updated in 2018—by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, part of the Marine Management Organisation, “If you intend to recover wreck material you may require a licence from the appropriate authority.” Lifting a heavy item with a crane close to an archaeological site disturbs the sediment, potentially affecting the nearby site. And, under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 it is “an offence to demolish, destroy, alter or repair…without scheduled monument consent…a maritime monument.” 

It would be prudent first to apply for permission to assure that the site is correctly defined and not damaged. According to the Wreck and Salvage Law, every item retrieved must be reported to the “Receiver of Wreck.” This organisation deals with modern and historical “lost and found” items such as anchors, port holes, and coins. The legal practice assumes that every item has an owner and reporting enables the organisation to return the item to the owner and assess whether the item is historically important. 

Hence, the Receiver investigates ownership of wreck items. When the item is returned to its legitimate owner, the finder is entitled to a reward. Unclaimed wreck items belong, after a year of waiting, to the Crown. The Receiver decides on behalf of the Crown whether the finder may keep the item or turn it over to the Royal authorities. So, in the UK, when you pick up an item and keep it without reporting your findings, you have stolen it from the Queen. 

Propeller shaft of Doyle, Scapa Flow, UK  

The Sustainable Future Of Wreck Diving

Is there a place for citizen science? In the preamble of the convention, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization expresses its believe that (emphasis added) “cooperation among States, international organizations, scientific institutions, professional organizations, archaeologists, divers, other interested parties, and the public at large is essential for the protection of underwater cultural heritage.” Asking professionals to work together with amateurs and the public at large is simple citizen science. While this approach has century-old roots, it continues to gain traction in modern society. Can this approach be used for archaeology? 

The Finnish Society for Marine Archaeology (Suomen Meriarkeologinen Seura or MAS) was founded in 1995 and promotes marine archaeological research, education, and hobby activities in Finland. MAS initiates and coordinates marine archaeological research, training, and seminars. For example, it has jointly organised the 7th International Congress of Maritime Archaeology (IKUWA7) to be held on June 6-10, 2022 in Helsinki with Helsinki University and the Finnish Heritage Agency. One of its flagships is the initiative Porkkala Wreck Park featuring dozens of 16th to 19th century historic wreck sites. The objectives are documentation, identification, and preservation of the underwater cultural heritage. Dive clubs are invited to “adopt a wreck” for monitoring of the status and maintenance of anchored mooring buoys. This collaboration of professional and amateur organisations can very well be seen as an example project where citizens are involved in science under the guidance of professionals and experts in the field. 

Anchor of Sankbåden Wreck, Porkkala, Kirkkonummi, Finland  

The Baltic Sea Heritage Rescue Project

The German Baltic Sea Nature & Heritage Protection Association documents the condition of wrecks found in the sea, accounts for existing human remains, and notes the dangers to which the wrecks are potentially exposed. These threats are usually associated with illegal trawling, which can destroy wreck sites. Hence, removing ghost nets is the first step to approaching a new site. The work is carried out by volunteers.  

Project Baseline 

This initiative of the Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) intends to mobilise divers to engage as citizens and record changes in the world’s underwater environments. The website hosts dozens of local projects. Any diver can engage with scientific, conservation, and government entities to advance the restoration and protection of natural and cultural treasures. Although it mainly concerns marine biology and ecology projects, it may serve as an example of wreck monitoring and data communication with interested parties. 

The bathtub (in German: Badewanne) of Shinkoku Maru, Truk, Micronesia. 


In the Gulf of Finland, nicknamed “Badewanne“ by the German Navy during WWII, a group of volunteer divers finds, documents, and identifies lost, forgotten, and found wrecks. The group uses scientific methods such as measuring the dimensions of the wrecked ship, photographing, videoing, and modelling using photogrammetry for documentation. The group collaborates closely with archaeologists and the Finnish Heritage Agency and produced the documentary, “Nazi Sunken Sub/U-745 Verschollen.”

Steering wheel of the Imperial Eagle, Malta.

Heritage Malta

The Maltese Government recognised the impact of diving tourism on its underwater cultural heritage items. It tasked its agency Heritage Malta to form a unit dedicated to Underwater Cultural Heritage. The organisation identified several sites that “may be accessed by divers in a controlled and managed manner.” It finds further that “the creation of new sites that can be visited by divers and through virtual reality will give added value to the diving tourism package.” With this protective management approach, Malta hopes to attract even more deep-water wreck diving tourism in the future and become a “market leader.” 


By photographing and sharing  the deep throughout the last century, ocean explorers Jacques Cousteau and Hans Hass provoked the development of diving tourism. The number of divers has grown exponentially since the 1970s, and experts estimate that seven million people  actively practice scuba diving. [Ed.note—for a detailed study see: What is the size of the scuba diving industry?] About 2,000 divers visit the wreck of the cargo ship Thistlegorm, discovered by Cousteau in the early 1950s, each month. These estimates indicate the pressure that divers place upon cultural heritage resources, and the need for resource management. More importantly, we can make a difference by adopting the three golden rules: 

“Take only photos, leave only (at most) bubbles, touch only your own equipment.”

Collaborations in projects mentioned above such as the EU wreck park, adopt a wreck, or Baseline, can increase the meaningfulness of our hobby to help us get more out of our dives. Keep diving safe, but keep it sustainable for your diving environments. If you are ready, look at the references of the previous section and engage

The author visiting a mussel bank. Photo courtesy of Erik Wurz.

Rupert Simon on a dive trip with his club Nousu, Espoo, Finland. Photo courtesy of Jussi Tapionlinna

Rupert Simon started his diving career in Belgium in 2003 under CMAS guidance and now teaches under the same flag. He completed technical diving training under CMAS, NAUI, TDI, and GUE standards. He chairs the Scientific Committee of the Finnish Divers Federation and coordinates their dive training. He is also a member of the Finnish Maritime Archaeological Society (MAS), contributes to preservation and marine archaeological work and manages the EU wreck park in Porkkala, Kirkkonummi, Finland. As a scientific diver, he’s focused on moving towards a sustainable future.


Twenty-five Years in the Pursuit of Excellence – The Evolution and Future of GUE

Founder and president Jarrod Jablonski describes his more than a quarter of a century long quest to promote excellence in technical diving.




by Jarrod Jablonski. Images courtesy of J. Jablonski and GUE unless noted.

The most difficult challenges we confront in our lives are the most formative and are instrumental in shaping the person we become. When I founded Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), the younger version of myself could not have foreseen all the challenges I would face, but equally true is that he would not have known the joy, the cherished relationships, the sense of purpose, the rich adventures, the humbling expressions of appreciation from those impacted, or the satisfaction of seeing the organization evolve and reshape our industry. Many kindred souls and extraordinary events have shaped these last 25 years, and an annotated chronology of GUE is included in this issue of InDEPTH. This timeline, however, will fail to capture the heart behind the creation of GUE, it will miss the passionate determination currently directing GUE, or the committed dedication ready to guide the next 25 years.

Photo courtesy of Kirill Egorov

I don’t remember a time that I was not in, around, and under the water. Having learned to swim before I could walk, my mother helped infuse a deep connection to the aquatic world. I was scuba certified in South Florida with my father, and promptly took all our gear to North Florida where I became a dive instructor at the University of Florida. It was then that I began my infatuation with cave diving. I was in the perfect place for it, and my insatiable curiosity was multiplied while exploring new environments. I found myself with a strong desire to visit unique and hard-to-reach places, be they far inside a cave or deep within the ocean. 

My enthusiasm for learning was pressed into service as an educator, and I became enamored with sharing these special environments. Along with this desire to share the beauty and uniqueness of underwater caves was a focused wish to assist people in acquiring the skills I could see they needed to support their personal diving goals. It could be said that these early experiences were the seeds that would germinate, grow, mature, and bloom into the organizing principles for GUE.

Brent Scarabin, Jarrod and George “Trey” Irvine getting ready to dive.
Jarrod with his Halcyon PVR-BASC prototype.
George Irvine and Jarrod conducting the original DIR workshop.

The Pre-GUE Years

Before jumping into the formational days of GUE, allow me to help you visualize the environment that was the incubator for the idea that became GUE’s reality. By the mid-1990s, I was deeply involved in a variety of exploration activities and had been striving to refine my own teaching capacity alongside this growing obsession for exploratory diving. While teaching my open water students, I was in the habit of practicing to refine my own trim and buoyancy, noticing that the students quickly progressed and were mostly able to copy my position in the water. Rather than jump immediately into the skills that were prescribed, I started to take more time to refine their comfort and general competency. This subtle shift made a world of difference in the training outcomes, creating impressive divers with only slightly more time and a shift in focus. In fact, the local dive boats would often stare in disbelief when told these divers were freshly certified, saying they looked better than most open water instructors! 

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By this point in my career, I could see the problems I was confronting were more systemic and less individualistic. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that key principles had been missing in both my recreational and technical education, not to mention the instructor training I received. The lack of basic skill refinement seemed to occur at all levels of training, from the beginner to the advanced diver. Core skills like buoyancy or in-water control were mainly left for divers to figure out on their own and almost nobody had a meaningful emphasis on efficient movement in the water. It was nearly unheard of to fail people in scuba diving, and even delaying certification for people with weak skills was very unusual. This remains all too common to this day, but I believe GUE has shifted the focus in important ways, encouraging people to think of certification more as a process and less as a right granted to them because they paid for training. 

L2R: Jarrod Todd Kincaid and Rickard Lundgren plotting their 1999 Britannic expedition.

The weakness in skill refinement during dive training was further amplified by little-to-no training in how to handle problems when they developed while diving, as they always do. In those days, even technical/cave training had very little in the way of realistic training in problem resolution. The rare practice of failures was deeply disconnected from reality. For example, there was almost no realistic scenario training for things like a failed regulator or light. What little practice there was wasn’t integrated into the actual dive and seemed largely useless in preparing for real problems. I began testing some of my students with mock equipment failures, and I was shocked at how poorly even the best students performed. They were able to quickly develop the needed skills, but seeing how badly most handled their first attempts left me troubled about the response of most certified divers should they experience problems while diving, as they inevitably would. 

Diving Fatalities

Meanwhile, I was surrounded by a continual progression of diving fatalities, and most appeared entirely preventable. The loss of dear friends and close associates had a deep impact on my view of dive training and especially on the procedures being emphasized at that time within the community. The industry, in those early days, was wholly focused on deep air and solo diving. However, alarmingly lacking were clear bottle marking or gas switching protocols. It seemed to me to be no coincidence that diver after diver lost their lives simply because they breathed the wrong bottle at depth. Many others died mysteriously during solo dives or while deep diving with air. 

One of the more impactful fatalities was Bob McGuire, who was a drill sergeant, friend, and occasional dive buddy. He was normally very careful and focused. One day a small problem with one regulator caused him to switch regulators before getting in the water. He was using a system that used color-coded regulators to identify the gas breathed. When switching the broken regulator, he either did not remember or did not have an appropriately colored regulator. This small mistake cost him his life. I clearly remember turning that one around in my head quite a bit. Something that trivial should not result in the loss of a life. 

Also disturbing was the double fatality of good friends, Chris and Chrissy Rouse, who lost their lives while diving a German U-boat in 70 m/230 ft of water off the coast of New Jersey. I remember, as if the conversation with Chris were yesterday, asking him not to use air and even offering to support the cost as a counter to his argument about the cost of helium. And the tragedies continued: The loss of one of my closest friends Sherwood Schille, the death of my friend Steve Berman who lived next to me and with whom I had dived hundreds of times, the shock of losing pioneering explorer Sheck Exley, the regular stream of tech divers, and the half dozen body recoveries I made over only a couple years, which not only saddened me greatly, but also made me angry. Clearly, a radically different approach was needed.

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Learning to Explore

Meanwhile, my own exploration activities were expanding rapidly. Our teams were seeking every opportunity to grow their capability while reducing unnecessary risk. To that end, we ceased deep air diving and instituted a series of common protocols with standardized equipment configurations, both of which showed great promise in expanding safety, efficiency, and comfort. We got a lot of things wrong and experienced enough near misses to keep us sharp and in search of continual improvement. 

Casey McKinlay and Jarrod with stages and Gavin scooters in Wakulla Springs. Photo courtesy of David Rhea

But we looked carefully at every aspect of our diving, seeking ways to advance safety, efficiency, and all-around competency while focusing plenty of attention into the uncommon practice of large-scale, team diving, utilizing setup dives, safety divers, and inwater support. We developed diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) towing techniques, which is something that had not been done previously. We mostly ignored and then rewrote CNS oxygen toxicity calculations, developed novel strategies for calculating decompression time, and created and refined standard procedures for everything from bottle switching to equipment configurations. Many of these developments arose from simple necessity. There were no available decompression programs and no decompression tables available for the dives we were doing. Commonly used calculations designed to reduce the risk of oxygen toxicity were useless to our teams, because even our more casual dives were 10, 20, or even 30 times the allowable limit. The industry today takes most of this for granted, but in the early days of technical diving, we had very few tools, save a deep motivation to go where no one had gone before.

All in a dive of diving for the WKPP.

Many of these adventures included friends in the Woodville Karst Plain Project (WKPP), where I refined policies within the team and most directly with longtime dive buddy George Irvine. This “Doing it Right” (DIR) approach sought to create a more expansive system than Hogarthian diving, which itself had been born in the early years of the WKPP and was named after William Hogarth Main, a friend and frequent dive buddy of the time. By this point, I had been writing about and expanding upon Hogarthian diving for many years. More and more of the ideas we wanted to develop were not Bill Main’s priorities and lumping them into his namesake became impractical, especially given all the debate within the community over what was and was not Hogarthian. 

A similar move from DIR occurred some years later when GUE stepped away from the circular debates that sought to explain DIR and embraced a GUE configuration with standard protocols, something entirely within our scope to define.

These accumulating events reached critical mass in 1998. I had experienced strong resistance to any form of standardization, even having been asked to join a special meeting of the board of directors (BOD) for a prominent cave diving agency. Their intention was to discourage me from using any form of standard configuration, claiming that students should be allowed to do whatever they “felt’ was best. It was disconcerting for me, as a young instructor, to be challenged by pioneers in the sport; nevertheless, I couldn’t agree with the edict that someone who was doing something for the first time should be tasked with determining how it should be done. 

This sort of discussion was common, but the final straw occurred when I was approached by the head of a technical diving agency, an organization for which I had taught for many years. I was informed that he considered it a violation of standards not to teach air to a depth of at least 57 m/190 ft. This same individual told me that I had to stop using MOD bottle markings and fall in line with the other practices endorsed by his agency. Push had finally come to shove, and I set out to legitimize the training methods and dive protocols that had been incubating in my mind and refined with our teams over the previous decade. Years of trial and many errors while operating in dynamic and challenging environments were helping us to identify what practices were most successful in support of excellence, safety, and enjoyment.

Forming GUE

Forming GUE as a non-profit company was intended to neutralize the profit motivations that appeared to plague other agencies. We hoped to remove the incentive to train—and certify—the greatest number of divers as quickly as possible because it seemed at odds with ensuring comfortable and capable divers. The absence of a profit motive complemented the aspirational plans that longtime friend Todd Kincaid and I had dreamed of. We imagined a global organization that would facilitate the efforts of underwater explorers while supporting scientific research and conservation initiatives. 

I hoped to create an agency that placed most of the revenue in the hands of fully engaged and enthusiastic instructors, allowing them the chance to earn a good living and become professionals who might stay within the industry over many years. Of course, that required forgoing the personal benefit of ownership and reduced the revenue available to the agency, braking its growth and complicating expansion plans. This not only slowed growth but provided huge challenges in developing a proper support network while creating the agency I envisioned. There were years of stressful days and nights because of the need to forgo compensation and the deep dependance upon generous volunteers who had to fit GUE into their busy lives. If it were not for these individuals and our loyal members, we would likely never have been successful. Volunteer support and GUE membership have been and remain critical to the growing success of our agency. If you are now or have ever been a volunteer or GUE member, your contribution is a significant part of our success, and we thank you. 

Photo courtesy of Kirill Egorov

The challenges of the early years gave way to steady progress—always slower than desired, with ups and downs, but progress, nonetheless. Some challenges were not obvious at the outset. For example, many regions around the world were very poorly developed in technical diving. Agencies intent on growth seemed to ignore that problem, choosing whoever was available, and regardless of their experience in the discipline, they would soon be teaching. 

This decision to promote people with limited experience became especially problematic when it came to Instructor Trainers. People with almost no experience in something like trimix diving were qualifying trimix instructors. Watching this play out in agency after agency, and on continent after continent, was a troubling affair. Conversely, it took many years for GUE to develop and train people of appropriate experience, especially when looking to critical roles, including high-level tech and instructor trainers. At the same time, GUE’s efforts shaped the industry in no small fashion as agencies began to model their programs after GUE’s training protocols. Initially, having insisted that nobody would take something like Fundamentals, every agency followed suit in developing their own version of these programs, usually taught by divers that had followed GUE training. 

This evolving trend wasn’t without complexity but was largely a positive outcome. Agencies soon focused on fundamental skills, incorporated some form of problem-resolution training, adhered to GUE bottle and gas switching protocols, reduced insistence on deep air, and started talking more about developing skilled divers, among other changes. This evolution was significant when compared to the days of arguing about why a person could not learn to use trimix until they were good while diving deep on air. 

To be sure, a good share of these changes was more about maintaining business relevance than making substantive improvements. The changes themselves were often more style than substance, lacking objective performance standards and the appropriate retraining of instructors. Despite these weaknesses, they remain positive developments. Talking about something is an important first step and, in all cases, it makes room for strong instructors in any given agency to practice what is being preached. In fact, these evolving trends have allowed GUE to now push further in the effort to create skilled and experienced divers, enhancing our ability to run progressively more elaborate projects with increasingly more sophisticated outcomes. 

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The Future of GUE

The coming decades of GUE’s future appear very bright. Slow but steady growth has now placed the organization in a position to make wise investments, ensuring a vibrant and integrated approach. Meanwhile, evolving technology and a broad global base place GUE in a unique and formidable position. Key structural and personnel adjustments complement a growing range of virtual tools, enabling our diverse communities and representatives to collaborate and advance projects in a way that, prior to now, was not possible. Strong local communities can be easily connected with coordinated global missions; these activities include ever-more- sophisticated underwater initiatives as well as structural changes within the GUE ecosystem. One such forward-thinking project leverages AI-enabled, adaptive learning platforms to enhance both the quality and efficiency of GUE education. Most agencies, including GUE, have been using some form of online training for years, but GUE is taking big steps to reinvent the quality and efficiency of this form of training. This is not to replace, but rather to extend and augment inwater and in-person learning outcomes. Related tools further improve the fluidity, allowing GUE to seamlessly connect previously distant communities, enabling technology, training, and passion to notably expand our ability to realize our broad, global mission.

Photo courtesy of Kirill Egorov

Meanwhile, GUE and its range of global communities are utilizing evolving technologies to significantly expand the quality and scope of their project initiatives. Comparing the impressive capability of current GUE communities with those of our early years shows a radical and important shift, allowing results equal or even well beyond those possible when compared even with well-funded commercial projects. Coupled with GUE training and procedural support, these ongoing augmentations place our communities at the forefront of underwater research and conservation. This situation will only expand and be further enriched with the use of evolving technology and closely linked communities. Recent and planned expansions to our training programs present a host of important tools that will continue being refined in the years to come. Efforts to expand and improve upon the support provided to GUE projects with technology, people, and resources are now coming online and will undoubtedly be an important part of our evolving future.

The coming decades will undoubtedly present challenges. But I have no doubt that together we will not only overcome those obstacles but we will continue to thrive. I believe that GUE’s trajectory remains overwhelmingly positive, for we are an organization that is continually evolving—driven by a spirit of adventure, encouraged by your heartwarming stories, and inspired by the satisfaction of overcoming complex problems. Twenty-five years ago, when I took the path less traveled, the vision I had for GUE was admittedly ambitious. The reality, however, has exceeded anything I could have imagined. I know that GUE will never reach a point when it is complete but that it will be an exciting lifelong journey, one that, for me, will define a life well lived. I look forward our mutual ongoing “Quest for Excellence.”

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Jarrod is an avid explorer, researcher, author, and instructor who teaches and dives in oceans and caves around the world. Trained as a geologist, Jarrod is the founder and president of GUE and CEO of Halcyon and Extreme Exposure while remaining active in conservation, exploration, and filming projects worldwide. His explorations regularly place him in the most remote locations in the world, including numerous world record cave dives with total immersions near 30 hours. Jarrod is also an author with dozens of publications, including three books.

A Few GUE Fundamentals

Similar to military, commercial and public safety divers, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is a standards-based diving community, with specific protocols, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and tools. Here are selected InDEPTH stories on some of the key aspects of GUE diving, including a four-part series on the history and development of GUE decompression procedures by founder and president Jarod Jablonski.

Anatomy of a Fundamentals Class

GUE Instructor Examiner Guy Shockey explains the thought and details that goes into GUE’s most popular course, Fundamentals, aka “Fundies,” which has been taken by numerous industry luminaries. Why all the fanfare? Shockey characterizes the magic as “simple things done precisely!

Back to Fundamentals: An Introduction to GUE’s Most Popular Diving Course

Instructor evaluator Rich Walker attempts to answer the question, “why is Fundamentals GUE’s most popular diving course?” Along the way, he clarifies some of the myths and misconceptions about GUE training. Hint: there is no Kool-Aid. 

The GUE Pre-dive Sequence

As you’d expect, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) has a standardized approach to prepare your equipment for the dive, and its own pre-dive checklist: the GUE EDGE. Here explorer and filmmaker Dimitris Fifis preps you to take the plunge, GUE-style.

The Flexibility of Standard Operating Procedures

Instructor trainer Guy Shockey discusses the purpose, value, and yes, flexibility of standard operating procedures, or SOPs, in diving. Sound like an oxymoron? Shockey explains how SOPs can help offload some of our internal processing and situational awareness, so we can focus on the important part of the dive—having FUN!

Standard Gases: The Simplicity of Everyone Singing the Same Song

Like the military and commercial diving communities before them, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) uses standardized breathing mixtures for various depth ranges and for decompression. Here British wrecker and instructor evaluator Rich Walker gets lyrical and presents the reasoning behind standard mixes and their advantages, compared with a “best mix” approach. Don’t worry, you won’t need your hymnal, though Walker may have you singing some blues.

Rules of Thumb: The Mysteries of Ratio Deco Revealed

Is it a secret algorithm developed by the WKPP to get you out of the water faster sans DCI, or an unsubstantiated decompression speculation promoted by Kool-Aid swilling quacks and charlatans? British tech instructor/instructor evaluator Rich Walker divulges the arcane mysteries behind GUE’s ratio decompression protocols in this first of a two part series.

The Thought Process Behind GUE’s CCR Configuration

Global Underwater Explorers is known for taking its own holistic approach to gear configuration. Here GUE board member and Instructor Trainer Richard Lundgren explains the reasoning behind its unique closed-circuit rebreather configuration. It’s all about the gas!

GUE and the Future of Open Circuit Tech Diving

Though they were late to the party, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is leaning forward on rebreathers, and members are following suit. So what’s to become of their open circuit-based TECH 2 course? InDepth’s Ashley Stewart has the deets.

Project Divers Are We

Diving projects, or expeditions—think Bill Stone’s Wakulla Springs 1987 project, or the original explorations of the Woodville Karst Plain’s Project (WKPP)—helped give birth to technical diving, and today continue as an important focal point and organizing principle for communities like Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). The organization this year unveiled a new Project Diver program, intended to elevate “community-led project dives to an entirely new level of sophistication.” Here, authors Guy Shockey and Francesco Cameli discuss the power of projects and take us behind the scenes of the new program

Decompression, Deep Stops and the Pursuit of Precision in a Complex World In this first of a four-part series, Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) founder and president Jarrod Jablonski explores the historical development of GUE decompression protocols, with a focus on technical diving and the evolving trends in decompression research.

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