2009 GUE Conference

By Karim Hamza

Since 2005, GUE has held an annual conference. On November 13th, 2009, GUE held its fifth annual conference designed to promote the exchange of ideas with respect to aquatic education, exploration, and conservation. Attendees from 17 different countries traveled to Gainesville, Florida, USA to attend this year's festivities. Conference speakers traveled from across the world to share their philosophy, ideas, projects, and programs to a passionate audience. The quality and the variety of the lectures were outstanding.

One may mistakenly think that the GUE conference would cater only to a GUE audience, thus only covering GUE diving principles and techniques. On the contrary, the conference had many different lectures appealing a variety of educational backgrounds. For example, diverse topics included monitoring/data collection for conservation, closed circuit rebreathers, 3D filming techniques/innovations, novel thermal innovations in drysuit insulation and exploration projects spanning the globe. Every effort was made to present new and different ideas and philosophies. The annual conference has consistently become a place where new ideas and concepts are being shared, and where the creation of new projects and ongoing initiatives take place.

One of the highlights of the conference was the unveiling of "Project Baseline" by Todd Kincaid, GUE V.P., and Caylin J. Goldey Barter (Project Baseline Coordinator). This was an eye-opening presentation with wide ranging ramifications to the conservation of the aquatic realm. Dr. Kincaid eloquently outlined one of the key problems in environmental protection – the lack of an identifiable "baseline" by which we can measure and support conservation goals. The shifting of our environmental baseline evolves as new “witnesses” observe their surrounds and reestablish a permissible or "normal" reference standard. In order to support global conservation we must be more effective at establishing a baseline or reference point so that we can create meaningful and long standing conservation efforts.

GUE’s Project Baseline is designed to establish a permanent, publicly accessible database that would serve as a baseline available to everybody- new comers,- and seasoned observers. The database will be available through Google Earth and accessible to anyone (divers and landlubbers alike). This is only the tip of the iceberg as any diving or conservation group will be able to add their research, exploration, conservation projects to Project Baseline. Their information, pictures, videos and other critical data can be uploaded and made available for the world to see. I was personally inspired by this concept and decided to hold a presentation on Project Baseline at Hollywoodivers in December. It was standing room only. The early working model of GUE’s Project Baseline will be publicly accessible sometime in early 2010.

As the initiative gains steam GUE will open the platform to all interested participants to create and support the protection of their own local community. As part of this initiative GUE is expanding its efforts to support various data collection techniques. To this end, Fred Devos and Chris Werner conducted two survey and data collection seminars at the conference, featuring basic and advanced survey techniques. There is a conscious effort from the GUE leadership to develop a strong data documentation program.

In addition to numerous engaging conference presentations, the GUE conference offered smaller workshops allowing the audience more personal access to key speakers. For example, a 3D workshop provided access to new technologies being used by Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute and others. Representative Evan Kovacs showed the audience a range of outstanding 3D footage. The groups were mesmerized by the clarity of these unique videos and their potential use in research and outreach efforts. Evan outlined the techniques for setting up 2D and 3D cameras for greater effectiveness in underwater cinematography and research efforts.

The 2009 GUE conference also featured some of the new developments in CCR rebreathers including some modifications to the KISS and Sentinel rebreathers. Brett Hemphill and Phil Short presented their individual exploration projects and discussed their specific rebreather unit followed by a Q&A session. Attendees received excellent descriptions of each unit which allowed the novice and seasoned user to better grasp the features and advantages of these particular CCR units.

Several presentations outlined unique global explorations. For example, Chris Le Maillot and Gideon Liew presented two wonderful films about GUE diving worldwide. Details about the logistics, the different dive sites, images, videos gave the audience not only a great appreciation of the work achieved by these two GUE training council members, but a better understanding of the exotic locations described therein.

The GUE conference was not limited to presentations, lectures, workshops and films. There were additional activities offered by the organizers including a wonderful dinner at the Rheas' Ranch, and at the High Springs Opera House where we had the opportunity to mingle, exchange ideas and ask questions about the daily presentations. David Doolette from the Navy Experimental Dive Unit, Casey McKinlay from the WKPP and others were popular with the attendees, who had a lot of questions and comments.

As if the aforementioned activities were not enough, you could have taken a Pilates class with Renee Neuman, or done some cave diving at nearby Ginnie Springs. Extreme Exposure provided rental and gas services to attendees. Douglas Mudry, Paul Gore, and Andrew Beasley made sure that everyone was taken care of in a timely fashion. The store was open early and only closed when all customers had their needs met, even if this was after 10pm.

Joining the GUE conference is important and enjoyable for a wide range of reasons. Whether you are interesting in getting together with old friends or meeting new ones I am confident you would get a great deal of joy and knowledge from the experience. The engaging presentations, fun filled activities, unique workshops and unprecedented access to some of the most active figures in the diving community. Regardless of your main area of interest I could not recommend the GUE Conference enough. Whether you want to enjoy a great educational weekend or enjoy the company of new and long time friends, I am sure there is something here for you. I hope to see you at next year's GUE Conference.

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