Protecting Our Underwater Treasures

Two scuba divers, submerged under water, pose for a photo
"Sea Sisters" in a National Park - Sea Sisters

More than five million acres of our National Park System is hidden from view … unless you have a Scuba diving certification.   

Some of our most meaningful park locations – the World War II era remains of the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, for example – are underwater. And the archaeologists at the National Park Service Submerged Resources Center (SRC) are tasked with studying and protecting these places.   

 Led by Chief Archaeologist Dave Conlin, the SRC’s dive teams locate and document underwater artifacts. They then share their discoveries with park staff and the public.  

A group of people in matching t-shirts and hats pose for a photo near a body of water

A group of "Sea Sisters"

Sea Sisters

But Dave’s small team can’t be everywhere at once – so with funding from the National Park Foundation, the SRC is launching a new service corps to protect more of our parks’ underwater treasures. In partnership with the WAVES Project (Wounded American Veterans Experience Scuba), the SRC is training women veterans to participate in diving missions. 

There are nearly 2 million women veterans in the U.S. – but many of the supports in place for the military community don’t adequately address their needs. The SRC aims to change that while accomplishing important work in the parks.  

The first expedition brought an all-women dive team to Channel Islands National Park to conduct shipwreck surveys. Two novice divers, both U.S. Army veterans, were trained to work alongside the more experienced divers. Jessica Keller of the NOAA, who helped train the veterans, shared that the team’s camaraderie remains strong more than a year later. These “Sea Sisters” stay in touch with advice and support – and lots of laughter – from across the country. 

“I love the calm and quiet underwater, and the focus that comes with having a mission. I tell every woman veteran I know, ‘You need to expand your comfort zone and do this.’” - Retired Army Master Sergeant Bonnie Casler 

 This summer, with the National Park Foundation’s continued support, a new group of “Sea Sisters” will plant coral and remove seafloor debris under the waters of Biscayne National Park in the Florida Keys. These missions are a first step in building a full-fledged service corps to introduce female wounded warriors to “second careers of service” in the national parks. 

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