Naturalist Richard Pyle recalls a momentous dive he made 30 years ago, when he was only 19 years old. He found himself at 75 meters deep in the clear waters off Palau, chasing a small pink fish that he was convinced was a new species unknown to science. Pyle snared the fish and headed to the surface, but still at 55 meters discovered his air gauge had malfunctioned and he was out of air. Remembering to exhale as he flew to the surface he broke the surface, handed his net over and collapsed with the bends.
The Bends and The Best Day of Richard Pyle’s Life
By the end of the day he was paralyzed and then spent the next 30 days in decompression chambers. For the next year he underwent physical therapy and walked with the aid of a cane. But as he relates the experience of that day he unequivocally states “It was the best day of my life. Everything good in my life can be traced back to that day” even though the little yellow fish was not new to science.
Exploring the Twilight Zone
Pyle’s painful brush with the bends led him toward a career in technical diving and a Ph.D. in ichthyology at the University of Hawaii. Pyle became a pioneer in using rebreather systems, a technology that has allowed him to explore the Twilight Zone, the little known coral reef habitats, 30 to 150 meters deep that are normally beyond the depth of scuba divers.
Pyle “was really the first to bring deep reefs to the attention of both the science community and the general public,” says Pim Bongaerts, a research scientist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
While Pyle was developing the dive equipment needed to explore the Twilight Zone, he also discovered 100 new fish (some of them are certainly yellow) and believes that thousands more wait to be identified. (photo – R. Pyle, Centropyge narcosis, named for the nitrogen narcosis Pyle suffered while collecting it.)
A True Pioneer and Courageous Scientist
Pyle “does what little kids do: He asks questions and then follows up on them, fearlessly,” says Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist of NOAA and now president of Mission Blue. “He’s a true pioneer and a courageous scientist.” (photo – Gorgonian corals in the Twilight Zone – Sonia J. Rowley)
Find out more about Richard Pyle’s spectacular career in Science Magazine:
Read our post on how rebreathers can increase our knowledge of the Twilight Zone: Rebreathers and submersibles work side by side to reveal Hawaii’s hidden reefs.
Discovering New Reefs, See Blue Ocean’s Related Posts:
How To Get More Ocean-Hearted Intel Delivered To Your Inbox!
We believe ocean lovers can change the world. If you care about the health of the ocean and want to do something about it, then connect with the Blue Ocean tribe: Our growing community of ocean change-makers is turning ocean lovers into ocean leaders. It starts with you. Join us!