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2020 Conrad Limbaugh Award for Scientific Diving Leadership

The 2020 AAUS Conrad Limbaugh Award for Scientific Diving Leadership goes to Lloyd Austin. Lloyd was a pioneer in the world of diving who helped develop the field of underwater scientific research. He served as U.C. Berkeley’s Diving Safety Officer and Chair of the Division of Diving Control from 1967 through 1996 and helped usher in the modern era of underwater scientific research diving. At Berkeley, he trained 760 scientists and students to conduct underwater research safely. His students logged over 130,000 dives around the world.

In the early 1980’s Austin (along with peer DSO’s) helped protect scientific diving at universities from what would have become the crushing weight of proposed OSHA supervision. He was instrumental in defeating proposed legislation that would have classified research diving at universities as commercial diving – which was and is subject to costly and stringent OSHA supervision and monitoring. The legislation would have made it impossible to conduct research on budgets typical of most university research programs. In Washington D.C., Austin and fellow dive officers argued successfully that diving safety officers at universities could manage safety programs through the AAUS without OSHA supervision.

Austin designed and built U.C. Berkeley’s challenging research dive training program, the protocols and infrastructure for diving safety and training – which maintained an impeccable safety record. In over 130,000 dives by 760 UC divers, there were no deaths or known cases of decompression sickness. There was one broken leg and three ruptured eardrums – all of which healed quickly. Austin mentored countless marine biologists, assisted in designing safe research techniques, and guided marine scientists in their personal and professional development. Graduates of Austin’s coursework now lead multiple university, marine lab and national scientific programs. Austin gave scientific divers at Berkeley the capability and confidence needed to dive safely, lead Marine labs, and become diving safety officers themselves. Students became program managers, conducted research in places as far ranging as Europe, the Middle East and Antarctica, and uncovered 2000-year-old artifacts on underwater archeological sites in the Mediterranean. Some trainees became experts on California hydrocorals, reef ecosystems, and encrusting corals. Some work at NOAA and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. From biological research to sustainability to tracking sharks in the Pacific, Austin’s students contribute to scientific discovery around the world today.

Austin first entered and fell in love with the ocean as a 3-year-old in 1934. As a teenager in 1947, he draped an oxygen tank over his neck and walked into the ocean using the WWII surplus aviator’s tank and regulator to breathe underwater. Austinpassed away in 2018 at the age of 87. Along the way, he logged over 7,000 dives.

Austin’s enduring impact on diving safety and research began after he successfully pushed for U.C. Berkeley to train research divers. He lobbied for this after helping rescue many ill-trained and ill-equipped divers visiting Bodega Marine Lab in the 60s. Austin’s imprint on diving, marine sciences and on the AAUS will be felt for years to come as his disciples teach new generations of researchers to dive safely while conducting scientific research around the world.

Thank you to Steve Peletz for his contributions to this article.

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The 2020 AAUS Conrad Limbaugh Award for Scientific Diving Leadership goes to Lloyd Austin.