Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Like in most areas, and particularly in extreme/ adventure sports and activities, men tend to be the ones recognised for the advancements and discoveries, and women, if allowed to participate at all, are relegated to the ranks of followers. This is also true in diving. Of course, we all know this is not the case, in fact, many women have been instrumental in the advancement of underwater exploration, but their names are little known. This series of posts is here to shine a light on the inspiring women pioneers and innovators of diving/ ocean exploration.
The Pioneers - So many that it is in 2 parts!
The Pioneers - part I
Sylvia Earl, god mother of diving and ocean exploration
Sylvia Earle is a diving Icon, second (?) only to Jacques Cousteau. She was the first female chief scientist for NOAA, leader of the Tetite II submersible team and pioneer in the development of deep-sea submersibles. She led the first team of women aquanauts in 1970. She also happens to be a marine biologist, lecturer, consultant, author and instigator of the project Mission Blue, which is a movement for marine protection and a documentary. Amazing feat? Walking untethered except for a communication line for two hours across the sea floor in a special suit, deeper than any human has ever been before or since. This was in 1979!
Dottie Frazer, first female instructor and dive shop owner
She is a true pioneer. She became the first female scuba diving instructor in 1955. She was also the first female dive shop owner, the first woman in freediving and spearfishing competitions. She started manufacturing wetsuits and drysuits and became a commercial diver. All this in the 40’s and 50’s when it was unheard of for a woman to even participate in any of these activities. She is a true inspiration!
Susan Bangasser, first to study how diving affects women’s bodies
After studying female divers and writing scientific articles on the physiological aspects of scuba diving on women’s bodies in the late 70’s and 80’s, Susan co-authored the first ever book written on women and diving -Women underwater-. She investigated controversial issues such as diving and pregnancy, susceptibility to decompression sickness due to gender, menstruation, contraceptive pill use and much more. She pushed for and obtained more studies and surveys to promote safe diving for all, particularly for women.
Sue J Trukken, first female diving officer and much more
After going into the navy in the late 70’s, Sue wanted to make sure she got an at-sea assignment; thus, she became the first female diving officer and the first female mixed gas diver to graduate Navy school diving and salvage, Washington Navy yard. A few years later, she also became the first saturation diving officer. For many years, she was the only female assigned to her command. During her navy career, she was a ship husbandry diver, salvage diver, diving safety officer and hyperbaric diver.
Eugenie Clark, the shark lady
Eugenie Clark, known as the shark lady, went on her last dive in June 2014, she died less than a year later at the wise old age of 92 years old, after a life time of studying and protecting the ocean realm and its most famous predators, sharks. A revered ichyologist, she wrote hundreds of articles and two books on sharks and many other fish. A pioneer in the field of scuba diving for research, she used her fame and academic credibility to promote conservation and improve the image of sharks.
These are but a few of the most inspiring ladies in diving. Keep tuned for part II to find out about the great woman behind Cousteau and many more.