Congratulations to Josh Cummings, for submitting the photo Brian Skerry chose as the winner of this month’s contest – this exquisite image of a moon snail navigating the sandy bottom of Folly Cove in Rockport, MA. We asked Josh to tell us more about his passion for diving in New England. Read on to hear about Josh’s New England Ocean Odyssey.
My first experiences underwater date back to the early 1980’s while I was on a family vacation. Being only eight years old, I was way too young to dive, but all it took was one snorkeling trip and I was hooked. What I saw was a whole new world; colorful tropical fish in crystal clear warm water swimming amongst vibrant canyon like coral reefs. My little brother and I explored for hours, watching animals such as parrot fish munching on coral, angelfish chasing each other around and moray eels curiously staring us down.
As soon as we got home from that trip, my parents took us down to the local dive shop where I got my first mask and snorkel set; this was the beginning of my love for diving. After a wait that seemed eternal, my little brother and I signed up for a scuba diving course when he was twelve and I was thirteen: just old enough.
We grew up in New Hampshire, close to the Vermont border, where there were no tropical fish or coral reefs to be found, but we were still amazed by what we could find beneath the surface. In those ponds and lakes we were free, able to move around three-dimensionally through the water and swim amongst the trout, bass, and pumpkinseed; still holding out hope that one of Captain Kidd’s ships ended up in a New Hampshire pond.
I continued snorkeling and diving in the nearby ponds and lakes until college, when diving really became an obsession. I took a job at the local dive shop, Underwater Sports of NH, learning everything I could about the sport, and went diving as much as I could. I dreamt of diving in far-off exotic lands, but being a broke college student kept me in New England. There were still many adventures to be had – off beaches, on shipwrecks, under the ice, in caves and even quarries.
Back then, I began to notice the destructive influence people have had on our marine environment. I saw the destruction caused by draggers, the deaths caused by carelessly discarded or lost fishing gear, centuries-old and modern trash, as well as the devastating effects of invasive species, such as zebra mussels.
I noticed that when I recounted my stories to non-divers they were surprised by two things: 1) That there is anything to see in New England waters; and 2) That activities, like carelessly conducted fishing and boating or forgetting that plastic cup on the beach, had long-term consequences.
I did what I thought I could to help the situation. I participated in underwater clean ups and reminded customers to properly clean their equipment and boats when traveling between water bodies. These were little things that helped, but I knew they were only temporary and small solutions – a Band-Aid. The real solution lies in changing people’s attitudes and behaviors.
I left the dive shop after I graduated and started my career in the environmental field, but I kept on diving. As soon as I could, I bought a high quality underwater camera system so I could finally share with family and friends what I saw in those murky ponds and chilly surf. As I practiced and slowly got better, I saw how many people were amazed by the colors, beauty, and sheer volume of life in our New England waters.
I soon realized that the best way to convey the natural beauty of the life in our waters, as well as the damage being done, was through photographs. I wanted to show the destruction, while also showing what is there to protect.
While I have yet to publish any of my photographs commercially, I am proud to have provided many of my photographs to organizations and agencies aimed at protecting our environment such as CLF’s New England Ocean Odyssey, the U.S. EPA and the USACE. Over the past year I have been able to document some incredible marine life behaviors: Atlantic squid mating and laying their eggs, and herring migrating through a rushing herring run. Small wonders happening right here in our backyards.
People often ask, “Where is your favorite place to dive?” It’s a hard question to answer. In my 25years underwater, I have been fortunate enough to dive all over the world (Caribbean, Mexico, California, Thailand, and Palau) with each providing an incredibly different and new experience, but I will always love the excitement and adventure that our New England waters offer. This is my personal New England Ocean Odyssey.
Josh Cummings is an Environmental Scientist for Jacobs Engineering at the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site. He has a degree in Industrial Chemistry and has been a certified diver since 1987 with certifications through PADI, TDI and IANTD.