President's Slate


January 2020
On the morning of October 11th, amid the flurry of symposium attendees rushing to workshops and meetings at Simon Fraser University, Marc Slattery and I sat in a quiet hallway and co-authored two letters; one addressed to Steve Butler, Director of the Office of Maritime Enforcement at OSHA and the other to the AAUS membership at large. The letter to Steve Butler was a long time in coming, and we had decided we wanted to start the dialogue with a formal request for written recognition (in the form of a directive) of the role of AAUS as the standard setting body for scientific diving in the United States. I’ll write more in coming months as to how this recognition fits into the larger picture of our Academy-wide initiatives, but suffice it to say, maintaining a strong relationship with our regulatory and enforcement agencies is one of the most important services this organization can provide to its members. We finished the draft and set it aside with the plan of getting the Board, past Presidents, and our governmental agency partners (e.g. NOAA, NPS, USGS, etc.) to review it prior to sending it at the beginning of the new year.

Later the same day, I was approached by Heidi Wilken of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. She informed me that only 11 days earlier, Steve Butler had retired from his position. My first thought was that we needed to fly to Washington, DC immediately and go to his house, and demand he come with us back to his office and discuss the last 37 years of scientific diving. The last thing I wanted (and still don’t want!) is for Steve to think we waited all this time until he retired and then finally reached out. This certainly wasn’t our intent. Some colleagues suggested it was probably a good thing and that we should just start the process with the new Director, Dr. Eric Kampert. This is of course what we decided to do and on November 8th, less than a month after the symposium, the formal letter was sent (please read the full text at the end of this newsletter). I’m excited to report that Dr. Kampert has already responded and signaled his openness to issuing the first scientific diving directive recognizing AAUS, potentially attending future symposiums, and engaging in ongoing discussions about our standards and the scientific diving community. This is my 23rd year with AAUS and I don’t think I’ve ever felt as optimistic and enthusiastic about the future of our organization and our community!

The second letter we wrote was in regard to the Academy’s Individual Membership Drive in 2020. This letter will be going out to all membership early in the new year, but I wanted to share an excerpt that represents the core of this initiative:

‘While AAUS has traditionally been an organization of organizational members focused on consensual standards for risk management, we recognize the heart of the scientific diving community lies within every individual that supports the goal of advancing underwater sciences. This includes not only scientific divers and support staff, but all stakeholders who care about the health of aquatic ecosystems and their implications for humanity.’

In the coming year, when someone asks you what the benefit is for being a member of the organization, the impassioned answer must be ‘our community’. It’s what brings us together as a family. Indeed, it is the only thing that has truly advanced underwater sciences for the past 70 years. At the symposium, both Marc and I joined as Lifetime Members and Chris Rigaud put out a Treasurer’s Challenge in the December e-Slate for all of our DSOs and DCB members to also support this organization with lifetime memberships. I encourage everyone, please, consider both this significant show of commitment to our organization as well as reaching out to all of the scientific divers in your programs to join us in developing the largest network of underwater science advocates in the world.

This organization is all of us. Expect your elected representatives to lead by example, advocate for the highest performance and ethical standards, and propose creative solutions to maintain our relevancy and grow our brand. We’re going to ask the same of you. It’s going to take everyone to shape the next generation of underwater sciences, and I for one am looking forward to the journey with all of you. Thank you for your continued support!

Derek Smith
University of Washington


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