Ever thought about making the sea your office? Fishes your colleagues? Or wearing T-shirts and wetsuits to work every day? If yes, then consider yourself lucky. Goa University's marine biotechnology course, set up under the central government scheme, has as a part of its curriculum initiated a scuba diving course-a first for any government institute in the country. "The certificate given to students on course completion, allows them to scuba dive in many scenic underwater locations such as Andamans, Lakhsadweep, and many others," says Savita Kerkar, associate professor and course coordinator, department of biotechnology, Goa University. So, this certificate can not only be used by students pursuing marine biotechnology but also by those interested in recreational activities.
Introduced in 2011, the course was first only optional for the marine biotechnology faculty. "Today it is open to students from other departments like earth sciences, microbiology and botany. However each batch has only twenty seats," informs Kerkaradding that the decision to open it to other departments was made when only 13 of the 20 seats in marine biotechnology were filled in 2012.
It is conducted by the instructor Venkat Charloo of Barracuda Diving India. "The students get the opportunity to study something connected to marine life. You don't expect a university in India to offer such a course as part of its curriculum," he says. The students are trained to dive to depths of 30meters. Apart from this diving experience, the course also carries two credits or 50 marks and an internationally recognised certificate. "At the end of the course all the students earn themselves a Scuba Schools International (SSI) certification," he adds.
The course is not all practical learning, students also undergo theoretical training. "They are given international books to study and are tested through two online tests. The course comprises of 80 per cent practical training and 20 per cent theoretical training," says Kerkar.
The whole idea behind introducing this interesting module is to give students an edge over those from other institutes when they apply for research in reputed organisations. "It is a plus point especially for students pursuing a career in marine biotechnology as they need to collect specimens from the sea and generally hire a second party to do this i.e. divers," says Kerkar. Thus through this training they collect underwater samples themselves and do not have to bank on hired divers.
Scuba diving not only allows them to gather samples themselves for research but allows them to experience life underwater upfront. "It gets them acquainted with underwater diving and the marine environment like the biodiversity, the tropical reef, watching the fish dart around coral heads, study the amount of pollution in the water and boats and ships that have sunk or they could simply lounge, or follow bigger animals attend to their rounds," informs Kerkar.
The classes are conducted on weekends from January to March at Sun Village, Arpora, Baga. "It was a great experience," says an excited Alok Sinha who recently completed the course. He adds, "We were provided time to learn in the swimming pool so we could master our skills. Charloo taught us pool skills like breathing and assisting one another when in danger."
Finally, the training ends when the students are taken to Grande Island near Vasco where they have their final training. "We hired a boat and first began with shallow water diving and then dived up to 13meters and came face-to-face with corals, lobsters and other marine life. It was like it all came alive," reminecies Sinha. "This is an entry level course which is the most basic international certification and is the stepping stone for all future marine courses, to become a well paying dive pro or as a hobby," concludes Charloo.
Starting salaries for divers range from Rs 30,000 to 40,000