From PEIF to a coral reef

Local couple talks about scuba travels

This is an octopus-versus-conch battle, several of the underwear sea animals Steve and Kathy Foulks have encountered on their scuba diving adventures. (Photo courtesy of Steve and Kathy Foulks)

MARQUETTE — Chances are you won’t see a sea dragon in Lake Superior. In fact, you might have to travel to Tasmania to see one.

That’s just what Steve and Kathy Foulks of Gwinn did. However, the list of places they’ve been on their scuba diving adventures is long, and includes places like Borneo, Belize and South Africa.

And Lake Superior and the bottom of the Northern Michigan University pool.

The couple presented a program, “Adventures in Scuba Diving Around the World,” Monday at the Marquette Hope Connection Center. The event was put on by the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning.

The two, who began scuba diving in 2007, talked about the activity in general as well as the exotic places they’ve been.

SCUBA, Steve Foulks said, stands for Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

That’s something he and Kathy have mastered, with over 500 open-water dives.

They first had to be certified, which they accomplished in Lake Superior when it was 41 degrees outside, 41 degrees in the water and snowing.

“Our dive instructor said, ‘You know, if you can be certified in Lake Superior, you can get certified anywhere,’ but it was really very, very cold, I can tell you that.

“We don’t dive in Lake Superior very much.”

This is a leafy sea dragon, one of the underwear sea animals Steve and Kathy Foulks have encountered on their scuba diving adventures. (Photo courtesy of Steve and Kathy Foulks)

What diving they do in the lake is to help The Nature Conservancy with shoreline cleanup, giving them the opportunity to find things like cellphones, credit cards — and, for some reason, lots of underwear.

The couple took a scuba diving course at NMU’s Physical Education Instructional Facility, which gave them the basics.

Steve Foulks said the advantage of taking such a course at NMU is that students had “pondering time” to think about their dives.

“In my opinion, scuba diving can be very dangerous and I think that pondering time is useful,” he said.

The two passed on some of those basics to the audience, showing them various pieces of equipment like tanks, weights, fins and masks.

Kathy Foulks talked about one of the simplest pieces of equipment: the pointer.

“If I want to show somebody something, I can point it out to them without getting too close, and also I can anchor with this if the current’s too strong and I have to pull myself along,” she said.

A simple piece of equipment Steve Foulks finds handy is a knife.

That’s not for getting into a fight, which he said tended to be a common occurrence in the old television show “Sea Hunt.”

“Normally, that doesn’t happen to us, but if you happen to get tangled up in some line or some sort, it might be nice to have that,” he said.

He did have to use his camera once to butt against a nurse shark — typically a harmless shark to humans — when it was coming at him.

Scuba divers, though, have to face more common dangers, which include:

≤ equipment failure.

≤ running out of oxygen.

≤ entanglement.

≤ panic.

≤ the “bends” — also called depression sickness, which results when dissolved gasses, mainly nitrogen, form in the blood or in tissues because of rapidly decreasing pressure.

Steve Foulks said he experienced the bends in Chuuk, Micronesia, which he attributed to being dehydrated. So, he now makes sure to drink has much as he can handle before he goes beneath the surface.

To guard against the dangers of the deep and even the not-so-deep, the couple gave a list of rules to follow, which included:

≤ diving with a buddy.

≤ checking that buddy’s equipment.

≤ making a safety stop at 15 feet.

≤ deciding how long the divers want to stay down in the water and the depth.

≤ deciding what they want to see during the excursion.

Steve Foulks said he always pays attention to the amount of air he has left, with Kathy noting it’s usually time to head back to the surface when the tank, which typically holds 3,000 pounds, has 500 pounds left.

She also said she always wears a skin because of things like fire coral, jellyfish and even jellyfish eggs, which, she stressed, can sting like the adults.

The couple recommends using a travel agency specifically suited to scuba divers, such as Island Dreams and Blue Water Travel.

“I usually plan our trips for us,” Kathy Foulks said. “I’m the travel agent in the house.”

What has to be considered, she noted, is how much time they have available and how far they want to travel.

What divers want to see, obviously, is a big factor as well.

For example, she said they traveled to South Africa to see sharks, whales and a sardine run. They also embarked on a cold-water trip — a 64-degree trek to Tasmania — to view sea dragons, a particular desire of hers.

Anyone who’s seen a photo of a weedy sea dragon, for example, probably will understand that. The reddish-colored fish with yellow spots and purple-blue bars looks like an elongated seahorse with weed-like appendages and snout-like mouth.

Then there are leafy sea dragons, which have olive-tinted appendages.

Throughout their years of scuba diving, the Foulkses have come across many marine fish like the sweetlips; a type of “carpet shark” called the wobbegong shark; a 5-foot-long barracuda; four different types of moray eels lined up next to each other; a nudibranch, which resembles a snail without a shell; and a great white shark — seen from inside a cage, of course.

They also showed a photo of a manta ray.

“They’re my favorite underwater animals,” he said. “They’re friendly. They’ll actually bump up against you.”

As many times as they’ve seen unusual sea creatures, there’s still the matter of getting to and from a spot, which involves boats.

That can pose a challenge too, especially for Kathy Foulks.

“She gets seasick,” her husband said. “Those small ships…”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.