Divers of the Year 2017

Since its inception, the Beneath the Sea Diver of the Year Award Program has honored men and women whose presence in the Dive Industry has made significant and lasting contributions to the past, present, and future of diving. By selecting for honor only those divers of eminence who rank in the top of their field -- Arts, Science, Service, Environment, or Education -- Beneath the Sea has creat- ed a fraternity of men and women whose visions are firmly fixed on the future of diving and whose future is tied to each other and to divers everywhere. For these reasons it is with immense pride that Beneath the Sea presents the Divers of the Year, Class of 2017.

Laurent Ballesta … Diver of the Year for Art

Along time closed circuit rebreather diver, he was the first man to bring back pictures of the Coelacanth in his ecosystem, the “oldest fish in the world,” our ancestor he studied with the help of the French Museum of Natural History during a scientific expedition he set up in 2013 off the South African coast. "Laurent's passion was born from the need to explore, that is why he became a marine biologist and an underwater photographer. In fact oceans are the last place on earth where you can be the first to observe something, at least where your childhood's fantasies may come true. His work both deals with the risks and technical constraints of deep autonomous dives and the challenge underwater photography faces with very low light levels... However, these conditions that originated life, this cradle of life, are precisely what drives him. His fascination is the continuity between the light coming down from the sky and life rising from the depths of the oceans. Marine ecosystems are indeed the richest and most diversified on earth while at the same time the most unknown, thus the most fascinating. Science has already described 300,000 marine species when one estimates that about two million of them are to be discovered. Laurent has many times taken pictures of species not yet described. The naturalistic and artistic approaches intertwine in his work. His work is a testimony of the remaining, extraordinary rich and yet still unknown life, and an endeavor to contribute to a global inventory of marine biodiversity.

Bernie Campoli … Diver of the Year for Service

Bernie Campoli first used the "Aqua-Lung" in 1956. In July 1958, Bernie set a new world's record for submerged endurance spending 30 hours and 6 minutes underwater in the Hamburg, New Jersey quarry. In the U.S. Navy, assigned to the newly formed Atlantic Fleet Mobile Photographic Group; he became a member of the commands "First Still Photo Team.” Attending Navy Underwater Swim School he was awarded the unique designation of Navy Photographer / Diver. Navy underwater assignments included UDT and SEAL Training. He documented President Kennedy's visits to the Fleet in 1962-63, tests on the new MK VI semi-closed re-breather, the commissioning and first sea trials of the "Alvin", the voyages of the French Navy's "Archimedes", and NASA's Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. In 1964 Bernie became a "Plank Owner" of Project SEALAB, filming the U.S. Navy's pioneering Man-in-the-Sea saturation diving mission. Bernie joined Ocean Systems Submersible Department, this work provided photo opportunities that led to his underwater footage being included in two Emmy award-winning "The Twentieth Century" with Walter Cronkite. As a "Scientific and Technical Photographer" at the Naval Coast Systems Laboratory, Bernie photo-documented  military mine counter-measure systems in air and underwater, and the development of the Navy’s hovercrafts. He worked for the Smithsonian Institution on a coral reef film: “The Sea – A Quest for the Future.” As the only Navy Civilian Diver/photographer routinely locking out of Navy nuclear submarines, Bernie can say he sailed on 10 different subs, and was locked out more than 70 times.

Greg Skomal … Diver of the Year for Science

Dr. Gregory Skomal is an accomplished marine biologist, underwater explorer, photographer, and author. He has been a fisheries scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries since 1987 and currently heads up the Massachusetts Shark Research Program. He is also adjunct faculty at the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science, Technology, and an adjunct scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). He holds a master’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and a Ph.D. from Boston University. For more than 30 years, Greg has been actively involved in the study of life history, ecology, and physiology of sharks.  His shark research has spanned the globe from the frigid waters of the Arctic Circle to coral reefs in the tropical Central Pacific. Much of his current research centers on the use of acoustic telemetry and satellite-based tagging technology to studythe ecology and behavior of white sharks. Greg was also the lead biologist for a series of Discovery Channel projects that involved the tracking of white sharks using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) called SHARKCAM.  Greg and his team were the first to follow and film sharks using an AUV.  While working with WHOI engineers off the coasts of Chatham, MA and Guadalupe Island, Mexico, Greg has been an avid SCUBA diver and underwater photographer since 1978. He has written dozens of scientific research papers and has appeared in a number of film and television documentaries, including programs for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, BBC, and numerous television networks. His most recent book, The Shark Handbook, is a necessary buy for all shark enthusiasts.

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