Fleet Week NY: U.S. Navy divers swim with stingrays at New York Aquarium
There were Spanish hogfish, purplemouth moray eels, queen angelfish and stingrays.
And then there were U.S. Navy divers.
From behind a coral reef emerged two men, adorned in camouflage, bubbles bursting from their mouths.
One child shrieked, “It’s a merman!”
Another yelled, “Are there sharks in there?”
A third asked, “Are those real people?”
In honor of Fleet Week New York, a group of U.S. Navy Divers assigned to the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit came to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island to swim with marine life, entertain kids and showcase their abilities.
Navy Diver 1st Class Sean Dargie and Navy Diver 1st Class Dave Cannon did somersaults, took photos, danced underwater and high-fived children through glass.
“It’s really cool,” said Elvin Marquez, 11. “They’re here because they know kids are coming today, and we can learn about fish and stuff like that. Not a lot of kids know about the sea, there’s a lot of stuff important about the sea.
“We learn about stuff in space, but we don’t even know about the sea.”
The event not only raised awareness for U.S. Navy divers, but it also attracted dozens of school groups to support the New York Aquarium, an iconic and quintessential Brooklyn institution.
“Hosting divers from the U.S. Navy has been a tradition for the New York Aquarium for several years,” Wildlife Conservation Society Vice President and Director of the New York Aquarium Jon Forrest Dohlin told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“It is a great way to engage our guests through dive demonstrations while celebrating Memorial Day and New York City Fleet Week, and imaginatively engaging them in exploration of the marine habitats here in New York. We are honored to have these dedicated service men and women at the aquarium today.”
One teacher urged his students to hurry up, fearing they might miss the sea lion show, but the children were glued to the glass, taking selfies with the divers. They knew where the real show was.
U.S. Navy divers, who often work side by side with Navy Seals, do everything from removing debris at the bottom of the ocean to fixing vessels so that they are in tiptop shape.
“It’s a great opportunity to share with other people in the community about what Navy divers do,” Navy Diver 1st Class Troy Frank told the Eagle. “A lot of people don’t actually know that Navy divers exist, so it’s a good opportunity for us to get it out there and share our experiences with everyone.”
He added, “We do our part to keep the ships ready to fight at a moment’s notice. That’s our mission.”
Fleet Week New York, now in its 29th year, is a long-standing celebration of sea services. The weeklong celebration has been held nearly every year since 1984.
The event is an unparalleled opportunity for citizens from Brooklyn and beyond to meet sailors, marines and coastguardsmen, as well as witness firsthand the state-of-the-art and heroic capabilities of today’s maritime services.
“Navy divers do everything from salvage operations to picking up an airplane on the bottom of the seafloor,” said Navy Diver 1st Class Frank. “We keep ships ready to fight. The U.S. Navy and government don’t have to spend time and millions of dollars in dry-docking fees.
“We can come out and fix the vessel right there, pierside; anything from something really small to something as large as a propeller blade.”
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Navy divers will cross the East River to perform tricks and showcase their skills in Times Square inside a portable tank.
On Sunday, the divers will take their talents across the Hudson River to Liberty State Park, N.J.
The event was a fitting start to Fleet Week New York. The only thing that could have surpassed the children’s excitement was if the divers swam in the shark tank.
An aquarium employee said, however, that the sharks are currently in mating season and are extremely aggressive.
Maybe next year.