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January 25, 2015

New Jersey divers famous for wreck exploration

The waters along the New Jersey coast are some home to many sunken relics.

Divers in New Jersey are some of the luckiest in the trade, even if those who went down with the wrecks they explore were not so lucky. 

A story from the Press of Atlantic City shines a spotlight on the storied reputation built by a group of New Jersey divers who brought innovation to shipwreck exploration. 

A roughly estimated 2,500 to 7,200 wrecks sit off the coast of New Jersey, at least a thousand of which are diveable, these experts contend. 

Through centuries of war and coastal commerce, many famous wrecks such as The Carolina, torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1918, and the passenger liner Andrea Doria, which sunk in 1956, have found their final resting place in the waters off the New Jersey coast. 

The presence of so many wrecks led to the rise of a group of New Jersey divers whose experiments introduced new techniques to explorers and helped bring opportunities and training to interested hobbyists. Per the Press of Atlantic City story: 

In the 1970s and '80s, South Jersey divers used emerging technology to address acute hazards that had prevented recreational divers from accessing deep wrecks.

At the time, the hazard to deep dives was a potentially deadly condition known as nitrogen narcosis, or getting "narced out."

It's a loopy state divers fall into as ambient air pressure increases on descent. The narcotic effect, also called "raptures of the deep," can cause a diver to lose focus in a situation where keen awareness is vital. There's also the threat of oxygen toxicity, where a diver gets more oxygen than the body can handle.

To deal with those hazards, divers like Peterson altered the gas mixtures in their tanks. They paused at intervals on ascent, refining a method called decompression diving.

New Jersey divers gradually earned a reputation as the most hardcore in the country, responsible for achieving progress in the science of diving and solving a wide range of maritime mysteries. 

The entire story is worth a read as it enters the minds of some the key characters who helped establish this tradition in New Jersey, recounting some of their stories and discoveries.