Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast

The Heart of the Ocean: Skylar Bayer on how discovering that she could no longer scuba dive started a remarkable journey to the bottom of the ocean

November 01, 2019 Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway Season 1 Episode 3
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
The Heart of the Ocean: Skylar Bayer on how discovering that she could no longer scuba dive started a remarkable journey to the bottom of the ocean
Chapters
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
The Heart of the Ocean: Skylar Bayer on how discovering that she could no longer scuba dive started a remarkable journey to the bottom of the ocean
Nov 01, 2019 Season 1 Episode 3
Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway

Skylar Bayer on how discovering that she could no longer scuba dive started a remarkable journey to the bottom of the ocean.

Hosted by Jason Elias and Paul Kelway. 
Produced by Jason Elias.

Show Notes Transcript

Skylar Bayer on how discovering that she could no longer scuba dive started a remarkable journey to the bottom of the ocean.

Hosted by Jason Elias and Paul Kelway. 
Produced by Jason Elias.

Speaker 2:

Hello and welcome to the big deep podcast, big, deep is a podcast about people who have a connection to the ocean, people for whom that connection is so strong it defines some aspect of their life. Over the course of the series, we'll talk to all sorts of people. And in each episode we'll explore the deeper meaning of that connection. In this episode we talked to a Marine biologist who was told by doctors she would never dive again and yet somehow still found herself at the bottom of the ocean. Hello, this is Paul Kelway and I am Jason E lias. Welcome to the big deep p odcast.

Skylar Bayer:

My name is Skyler Bayer and I am a PhD in Marine biology. Specifically I study reproduction and a lot of invertebrates and the inner title and subtitle of the ocean invertebrates are very much not like us as humans. They don't have vertebra column backbone, so they're really, really interesting animals that we don't really know a lot about because we tend to study things with backbones cause they're kinda like us and easier to understand. But they're also really important to animals, to our fisheries, to the ecology of oceans. They're also really interested in reproduction because when I was born I had a congenital heart defect, so I was really fascinated from a young age. Why did I have a congenital heart defect and my brother didn't so it started this love of alien creatures in the ocean and how does reproduction work and how can we protect and maybe grow these populations.That led me to where I am now.

Big Deep:

You study sea scallops, which are unlike any creatures on land. Is there something that have stuck with you? Like that's really weird and I can't believe this lives in this world?

Skylar Bayer:

Yeah, some weird things fascinate me when it comes to sea scallops for instance, they have tens to hundreds of eyes all along their mantle or sort of the edge of the shell when you look at them. And that is completely strange because when we think of eyes , we think of a pair on a head and that's pretty standard for a lot of animals. But why do they have so many? And no one knows actually why they even have those eyes and why are they developed on the edge of their shell ? Presumably it's to see something, but what we don't know and why do they need so many? And they add them as they grow too, which was also kind of strange. That's one example of something really strange and sea scallops. So in college that was when I realized that invertebrates were really cool. And when you're young, when you're a kid, dolphins and whales are really cool. Although I have to say one of the animals I used to draw a lot and be obsessed about was the giant squid. So I guess I've always liked mollusks just cause they're so weird and interesting and different. My dad was a computer programmer, he was sort of a former research scientist and grad school and he was very encouraging of my interest in science and research. And so one year when I was six or seven, my dad and mom got me exploring the Titanic, which was all these pictures of the Titanic wreck and pictures of the submarine. Alvin. And my first thought was like, well, what animals are down there? What animals ate, the people, all those bodies that went to the bottom. And that was sort of my fascination and obsession and so there's a lot of influence in my early childhood of the wonder and exploration of the deep and all the possible animals that could be down there. There's just so much left to explore and discover.

Big Deep:

You had a parallel aspect of your life that was pretty profound, which was your health. Do you mind talking a little bit about what your health issues came from and how that shaped and affected what you do and how you do it?

Skylar Bayer:

When I was born, I had this congenital heart defect and this defect is called transposition of the great arteries. I had a plumbing issue, right? Like my pipes had to be switched, so I was born and then I had surgery the next day and things were, you know, fine, I could do anything and everything anyone else could. And then when I was 25 I had just started my PhD program in Maine and I'd finished six months of learning. How to be a scientific diver and I really loved it and the lab I joined was a diving lab. We used scuba diving as a tool to do a lot of the research, a lot of the experiments and I got really, really sick that fall. It was the end of October and I would get these weird little arrhythmias in my heart and I felt really sick, like I would sleep 12 hours a day and I wouldn't feel rested and they did a bunch of tests. Then they said that in the halter monitor recording while I was asleep, my heart had gone into 36 beats of ventricular tachycardia. The simplest way I can put it is it's like a fast rhythm that's on the way to ventricular fibrillation, which is one form of a heart attack. The day I got admitted to the hospital. part of me was like, well, maybe 25 years is all I got out of that. Maybe that's , that's all I get. And then the second part about what was so awful about that was that they found out that I basically had really bad wiring in my heart. They told me that I couldn't scuba dive anymore. They said that this ended my scuba diving career. It was a really big blow for me and you know, I probably cried for hours. It was really devastating. I felt at 25 you're still young and you think that you can do things. It felt like I've had something taken away from me without my permission, without the time I thought I had, But you don't go to school to get a PhD just so that you can be a scuba diver and I realize one of the most famous scientists in the world is Stephen Hawking and he does amazing research and is still a brilliant mind even though he can't even speak. Examples like that are helpful for thinking like, okay, I still really love science. I'm still really curious and there's tons that people can do without actually being in the environment that they're studying. I think it made me a more serious scientists. I realized there is a deeper connection to the ocean environment than just being a scuba diver.

Big Deep:

But then years later you hadn't experienced, which kind of brought you full circle and allowed you to go pretty deep in the ocean. Could you describe that experience for us, what it was like and what it meant to you? I.

Skylar Bayer:

I went in the submarine, Alvin in 2007 which fulfilled the lifelong childhood dream, DSV Alvin or deep submersible vehicle. Alvin is a three man submarine and I think technically it's owned by the us Navy, but woods hole oceanographic institution uses it for a lot of their work and it can go pretty deep. And Alvin, the submarine is very famous for being the submarine they found the Titanic with. So when I was an intern as an undergrad and dr Lauren Molinos lab at the woods hole oceanographic institution or who we are as we call it, and they had a research cruise where they needed someone to go, I think the postdoctoral researcher in the lab couldn't make it. And so I got to go at Manzanillo, Mexico and it was two sites called nine North. It's on the East Pacific rise, which is a tectonic plate Ridge out in the Pacific ocean. It's West of Mexico. There's been a bunch of eruptions there that people have paid attention to in the deep sea along that Ridge. There's a lot of really cool animals down there and deep sea hydrothermal vents, hydrothermal meaning hot water, so there's all these hot water chimneys coming out along these, these ridges and the ridges kind of look like canyons. Then sometimes you can see where the LAVA has paved everything over during these eruptions. The animals live down there and a lot of these animals are crazy looking. A lot of them look kind of like ghosts , like when they tend to be white and they, they all feed off of bacteria that feed off of the sulfur and other dangerous chemicals that come out of these vents . He's hot water vents. We were studying these communities of animals that live down there like these tube worms and crabs and limpets and snails and and all these interesting animals. They don't decide who's going in until the day or two before because the weather matters, you know, I got to go and I was really excited about it. And you're not supposed to wear any synthetics. You're supposed to wear cotton and wall basically in case there's a fire. So it's this six foot diameter sphere and they fit three of you in there. And during the safety tour they're like, okay, you know, here's like three days worth of CO2, scrub food and water in case you get stuck down there and you're like the pouches that you pee in and don't press this lever. And we're like, what does that do? And they're like, well if you're stuck there for three days then you can press the lever and it'll shoot the six diameter sphere and away from the sub all the way to the surface. And we don't know how fast that goes. And I remember thinking, great, I can't wait to die that way. I was really nervous. I was most nervous about the peeing thing because you go down there all day, it's like nine hours, take three hours to get to the bottom. And then you spend three hours on the bottom and then three hours to get up. So you know, we get in in the morning and it's pretty cramped in there and it's warm at first on the surface and then you're lifted by the, a frame of the boat. Then you're sort of wobbling from side to side. And there are these swimmers, these guys and fins and bathing suits to make sure everything it's unhooked properly and one of the moon does And then you start going down and you know, it's like a very clear crystal white blue at the surface and then it gets darker and darker.

Big Deep:

Wow .

Skylar Bayer:

You're actually spinning in a circle, just sort of in a spiral all the way to the bottom because of how it's weighted. You're just pointing down and you don't feel it because everything kind of looks the same and it starts to get colder and colder down there. At about a mile and a half. That's how deep we went. You know, you sort of land in this Canyon, the Ridge and it's pitch black, but then you have the lights on from the submarine. But if you didn't have the lights on, you wouldn't see a thing. So there's a pilot and then their support side observer, I'm on the starboard side observer, and so I was starboard side observer, which is the less experienced one.

Speaker 1:

We started exploring the Ridge. So there's also like markers where people have deployed gear where they're putting out plankton pumps. They're , they're putting out plates to collect animals on. There's all this science going on there and a lot of them are like bright yellow buoys so that when they pop up to the surface, eventually you can see them. So then you, you start seeing these squat lobsters and crabs. They're bone white. They're like ghosts. And it's really like being in a Canyon. It's amazing how much of a Ridge there is on either side. Then then finally you start seeing this water shimmer out of, out of the sea floor, and then it's the hydrothermal vents. As soon as you start seeing a lot of shimmering water, you start seeing all these animals. There's these purple looking fish and these tube worms, the tube worms look like strange Rose gardens where they're sort of these white twisty branches almost. And then the gills on the worms themselves are these bright, vivid red. So they're always reminds me of a Rose garden with white stems. And then you have all these little snails and limpets attached to all parts of the two worm tubes and everywhere. And then you have these chimneys of shimmering water coming out and then these ghosts like crabs

Skylar Bayer:

We got to explore a lot on my dive and towards the end of the dive, like we've done our deployments, who collected what we were supposed to collect. The pilot sends me Bruce, he goes, so is there anything you wish you got to see? And I was like, well I'd love to see a Dumbo octopus. And then like 15 minutes later Dumbo octopus showed up. You know, they look like Dumbo except they're an octopus and they have their flaps that they're swimming with. And it came and sort of checked us out and we played with it with the arm manipulator and Alvin, the other thing I got to do when I was down there was call my dad the night before Bruce was, is there anyone you want to call over there? We need to test the system. So I called my dad at work and of course the first question he asked me was, so Scott , do you see any giant squid down there? No dad, it's hydrothermal vent there no giants squids cause it's like really? It was a good moment. I always tell people that it's one of the best days of my life. I felt like a real Explorer and that curious feeling of being like excited and nervous and having a real sense of wonderment and I got to fully experience that and yeah , is one of the best days of my life I think .

Big Deep:

Finally we end every interview and every episode by asking a single open ended question of everyone we talked with. What does the ocean mean to you?

Skylar Bayer:

Oh , what does the ocean mean? To me? The ocean means everything to me, which sounds crazy, but it , it means so many things. It means happiness. It means danger, it means curiosity. It means love, it means life. It means everything to me.

Big Deep:

Thank you for listening to the big deep podcast. Next time on big deep and then there's that view where you are hanging in front of that orange firing site and it was such a peaceful, pure moment of just being deep and you're feeling one with the water, which is such an amazing element . We feel one way. It's kind of like being one with a God . We really appreciate you being with us on this journey into the big deep as we explore notion of stories. If you like what you're doing, please make sure to subscribe, like and comment in our show in iTunes, overcast, SoundCloud or wherever you catch your podcasts with those subscribes and links really make a difference for more interviews, deeper discussions with our guests, photos and updates on anything you've heard. There's a lot more content at our website, bigdeep.com com plus. If you know someone you think we should talk to, just let us know what the big deep website is. We are always looking to hear more stories from interesting people who are deeply connected to our world's oceans. Thanks again for joining us.