#29: Dive Buddies - Volunteer Mike A.

I came to the New England Aquarium about five years ago to dive in the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) after having won the dive at a high school fund raiser. I loved the dive, asked to volunteer and was accepted. That five years has became a lot more than just the over 600 hundred dives I have completed in the GOT.

I was born in Chicago more years ago than I like to remember and grew up in the suburbs. I did undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin in philosophy, attended graduate school in European history at University of Michigan and New York University.

I spent over a year in central Italy working on research for my dissertation. Upon my return to NYU, I was very active in the antiwar movement and worked for the graduate school government as its press secretary. Later I worked as a lobbyist in Albany, N.Y for the Student Association of SUNY.

Following the year with the Student Association, I taught various European history courses at several colleges in New Jersey as well as at one of the state prisons.

When my first daughter, Liz, arrived I became increasingly unhappy with academia and the low pay I was earning. I took my savings and started speculating in commodities, mostly gold futures contracts. I was lucky and made enough to leave academia behind forever and basically do what I'd dreamed about: learning to fly.

I received my private pilot's license in 1978 at the airport in Princeton, N.J, and it was a dream come true. After moving to Boston I completed instrument training at Norwood Airport. I had bought a Cessna 172 and spent a great deal time flying through all kinds of weather all over the eastern U.S. During this time through an acquaintance, I became involved in investing in drilling oil and gas wells in the western U.S and have been doing this continuously since.

Although I left academia I couldn't stop writing and spent years taking poetry workshops around the Boston area. I also had a second daughter, Camille. I begin to enjoy reinventing myself and trying new things. I took up swimming pretty seriously as well as kayaking and rollerblading -both of which I continue to do.

I also joined AirLifeLine, a non-profit organization that flew needy patients all over the country for medical treatment. For thirteen years I served as one of their volunteer pilots and eventually became director of operations in New England. In the late eighties, mostly because of all the swimming I'd done, I decided to go deeper and learned to dive at Mass Diving in Natick. Since then I've added to my skills working up to Divemaster two summers ago. The diving led indirectly to my joining with the Aquarium as a volunteer.

Even though I was busy with all the above activities I found time for one more reinvention: music. I'd never learned an instrument and decided it was time. I started lessons on the blues harmonica about two years ago determined to get into a band, which I succeeded in doing last fall. I'm still getting used to all the demands a band makes on a performer but am enjoying it nevertheless.

Back to Aquarium life. Dive volunteers are responsible not only for preparing all the food which is consumed by the animals but also for helping maintain the cleanliness of the GOT. Vacuuming the detritus that accumulates on the bottom of the tank is an important task, and I take great pride in doing a good job. Here are some photos of my work:

Here, the sand separator I'm holding is attached to a hose that runs all the way to the top of the tank, where it is connected to our overflow skimmers. The siphon is a simple gravity-fed operation, where water and debris run to a sump in the mechanics' shop directly below the GOT.

Being a volunteer is a great physical and organizational challenge. The dive team works daily on a tight schedule punctuated with frequent special projects. Helping with this work brings together many of the skills I've aquired over the years for the benefit of an organization which is of great benefit to the Boston area. Perhaps one of the best aspects of my affiliation with the Aquarium are the interesting people I've met and all I've learned. I deeply appreciate the respect I feel I've received from the Aquarium staff who are very sensitive to the contributions volunteers make and the value we bring to the institution.

In short, I can't think of a better place to volunteer for anyone who appreciates the importance of the sea and the educational value the New England Aquarium's GOT imparts to local residents and visitors - many of whom may never have the opportunity to visit a tropical reef environment like the one the GOT simulates right here in Boston.

-Mike A.



  1. love this !!!!! thanks for sharing Mike !!!

  2. HOLY MOLEY! what a great blog, mike. i'm happy i feel like i know you much better :). where can i hear you play...? will you fly me there?


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