A dream of a dive

For nearly 30 years, one man’s chance of a lifetime waited for him at the ocean floor. But as Bill Dent lived his dream, there was no time to wonder if it was worth the wait.

“I was just thinking about getting the mission done,” Dent said.

At 240 feet underwater, Dent was on an assignment with a deadline that could cost him his life. However, Dent remained confident because such expeditions were nothing new to him, even though this time he was diving on the wreckage site of a Civil War battleship, the USS Monitor.

“This was by far the most historical dive I went on,” said Dent, a diving safety officer at USF. “It was something in my wildest dreams to be diving on such a historical wreck.”

It was up to Dent and Matt Garvey, a scientific diver at USF, to help the U.S. Navy recover artifacts at the site of the Monitor, which sank in 1862 off the coast of North Carolina.

Dent said he and Garvey took only one dive to the Monitor to set a baseline, which locates artifacts along the ocean’s floor. However, setting the baseline had to be completed within 25 minutes to ensure Dent and Garvey had enough decompression time.

“The depth of the waters limited us,” Dent said.

The 45-day diving expedition launched by the Navy was intended to lift a 150-ton gun turret and receive an assessment of artifacts collected. However, Dent said he and Garvey only spent a week at the site, and poor weather conditions limited them to one dive.

“We were there the day they lifted the turret, though,” Dent said. “We met with a lot of artifacts that were down there.”

Dent, whose father was a Navy diver, said he has participated in diving research projects for eight years. But this research, he said, was unlike any other project he has participated in at USF. As the president-elect of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, Dent’s research has taken him to the Caribbean and across the nation to Alaska.

Dent said there are about 125 active underwater researchers at USF who are continuously traveling to encounter new environments. Deep-sea divers at USF have two projects to study how plants and coral reefs could contribute to the treatment of cancer patients.

Bill Baker, associate professor of chemistry, said researchers traveled to Hawaii during the summer and will go to Vietnam next month to collect microorganisms from the ocean.

Baker said the organic compounds, such as sponges and corals, have pharmaceutical properties that can be applied to disease treatment.

“In modern science, things like cancer disease states change, and because people become resistant to drug treatment, we’re trying to come up with new drugs,” Baker said. “Plus, we get to do the scuba diving.”

Baker said USF’s researchers will go to Antarctica in January to find out why the organisms contain chemical compounds. Baker, who has done diving research in the Antarctic Ocean, said although the water’s temperature is below two degrees Celsius, it is worth exploring the ocean’s environment.

“Clearly, the water’s cold and you might have to drill holes through the ice,” Baker said. “But there are quite dynamic ecosystems down there – just as dynamic and beautiful as the coral reefs in Florida.”