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Sharks, Shipwrecks and Scuba Gear

by Rich Wilhelm

Douglas Terry was swimming along the inside railing of a World War II shipwreck when he glanced up and saw a very large bull shark swimming in his direction, along the outside of the railing. “It was like passing him on the highway,” says Terry. “We sort of waved to each other and kept going.” While many people would find that proximity to an enormous fish to be disconcerting, it is exactly the kind of one-on-one contact with marine life that makes scuba diving and underwater photography (Terry took the photos on this page) so rewarding for Doug Terry.

Terry, an ASTM member since 1989, developed his interest in scuba diving following a snorkeling adventure in Hawaii in 1992. Terry is now an experienced diver with 893 logged dives under his belt. He has earned dive master/dive control specialist certifications from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and Scuba Schools International and has a master scuba diver certification from the National Association of Underwater Instructors, as well as a large-boat diving supervisor specialty in NAUI.

While Terry has dived in a variety of locations, including Maine, Alaska, and the Caribbean, he can be found most often at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico, where he does part-time work as a dive master. In this capacity, Terry’s responsibilities include “basically getting divers in and out of the water safely,” but it also gives Terry time for his own dives at the Flower Gardens, which are located about 100 miles [161 km] south of the Texas/Louisiana border. The sanctuary is home to over 20 different species of coral (the northernmost areas of coral to be found in North America), more than 200 species of fish, and over 250 species of invertebrates.

Diving around shipwrecks has been particularly fascinating for Terry. His encounter with the bull shark happened at the wreck of the Empire Mica, a British oil tanker that was torpedoed by Germans in 1942 and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida. Terry has also dived several times at the site of the VA Fogg, a ship that exploded while hauling benzene and sank off the coast of Texas in 1972.

A few years after he began diving, Terry says he became interested in underwater photography, for two reasons. “The first was a desire to show what I’ve seen to other people, divers and non-divers alike,” says Terry. “Second, I enjoy fish identification, which is kind of like bird watching. If you’re trying to identify a fish you’ve seen, it’s obviously easier if you have a good photo of it.” While he used inexpensive 35-mm cameras when he was first taking underwater photos, Terry now uses a digital camera, which he encloses in a special housing for underwater photography.

Among the many highlights of his dives, Terry says his favorite has been sighting four whale sharks (the largest fish in the world), each one about 40 feet [12 m] long, in the Gulf of Mexico. He has also encountered nurse sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, the occasional dolphin and countless other creatures, many of which he’s captured with his camera. In addition to scuba diving and photography, Terry’s underwater activities have extended to spear fishing; he says he sees a tremendous number of fish while fishing around the oil rigs in the gulf.

Terry says that his deepest dive has been to about 134 feet [41 m] (most recreational diving stops at about 130 feet [40 m]), though he usually stops at 100 feet [30 m]. While he has dived in many places, one site, the Truk Lagoon in the tropical Pacific, is still high on his list of places he wants to dive. The lagoon is the site of several Japanese shipwrecks from World War II, but its location (“way out past Hawaii,” says Terry) has kept Terry from making the trip so far.

Douglas Terry’s 15-year involvement with ASTM has centered around Committee D26 on Halogenated Organic Solvents and Fire-Extinguishing Agents. Terry’s primary focus has been on analytic methods. He has worked on several subcommittees and has been chair of Subcommittee D26.04 on Test Methods. He has also been the secretary and vice-chairman of D26 and became chair of the committee this year.

Whenever time permits though, Doug Terry heads back to the Flower Gardens for more diving. “I’ve always enjoyed travel and exploration,” Terry says. “Diving allows me to enter an exotic other world practically in my own back yard.”

Copyright 2004, ASTM International