Forty Years Diving in Casco Bay
Paul Rollins has been scuba diving in Casco Bay and the surrounding waters for over 40 years. The morning I interviewed Paul, we met at Kettle Cove, just south of Casco Bay.
Paul showed up at the Cove in his company car – a large 15-passenger van with the words “Rollins – Scuba Associates” on the side. The van is a sort of mobile diving office. There are oxygen tanks, diving suits, and facemasks inside. There’s even a tank of hot fresh water for “showers” after his dives (a much needed luxury after swimming in the cold Maine ocean).
Paul is a commercial and recreational diver. He’s logged over 20,000 dives in his career and his business is 30 years old. He specializes in teaching diving to people with disabilities, and he helped create both the Portland and South Portland Police Dive Teams.
Paul’s stories from the past forty years are far too numerous to recount. When I ask him about some of his favorite diving moments, Paul tells me about swimming with a twelve-foot Beluga whale in Kettle Cove. He recounts a story about untangling a leatherback turtle from a lobster trap line (hear Paul tell this story in the audio slideshow above). And he tells me about watching ducks dive 30 feet below the surface to catch fish.
Paul has seen many changes in and around Casco Bay.
He’s watched as the urchin and scallop industries collapsed. He remembers a time when he would brush urchins off of the rocks before diving in. Now the urchins are gone and in their place Paul sees invasive species like green crabs, and star and colonial tunicates. “I look at the Cove and think back to when I was first coming here and we’d have lobsters and crabs and all sorts of whelks and hermit crabs and schools of pollock and flounder and skate and sea robins and sea ravens… now I go there and it’s hard to find even one fish.”
Paul has seen dramatic, and troubling, changes in the ocean. He tells me that pollution, over-fishing, and a lack of state regulations have all contributed to these changes. By the time the urchin and scallop fisheries were regulated, it was too late.
Paul keeps fighting to protect the health of Casco Bay and the surrounding waters. On his dives, he cleans up debris and trash – sometimes alone, sometimes with students. “[People think] if they throw something in and it disappears underwater it’s gone and nobody will ever see it, well… I see it. I see it every time I dive.” And every time he dives, Paul will continue to clean the ocean floor. He knows he can’t change the course of history, but he’s committed to trying. “The ocean is not a dump and sooner or later parts of it… will just literally die. If we don’t have the ocean, we’re going to be an extinct species.” Paul sighs as he says this and takes a deep breath. “I’ll stop there for a minute… I’m on my soap box.”
Written and produced by Galen Koch, 2014.