volunteering to scuba dive with a giant fish

Diving Deep To Do Some Good

How one scuba diver turned a hobby into an opportunity

When Alex Green first started volunteering at the Aquarium of the Bay, he didn’t realize how deeply involved with the institution he’d become—although perhaps he should have, given that what he was doing for them was scuba diving.

“I had wanted to volunteer in San Francisco, but I couldn’t find anything I was really passionate about,” he said. “Then I came across this ad for scuba diving for the Aquarium of the Bay. I’ve always been a pretty avid scuba diver, and I’m also aware of a lot of the pressures on the Bay, particularly from plastic pollution, so it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Green answered the ad, and though he walked away from his first meeting convinced he wouldn’t get the position, within a couple of weeks he was in the tanks, feeding fish and entertaining visitors. “Part of it is entertaining the guests, who are mostly kids, which is great,” he told Good Turns recently. “You get to see their little faces light up and it is priceless.”

Most of the work is more mundane. “We throw in loads of fish, and some of it doesn’t get eaten, so it decays at the bottom, so we do vacuuming at the bottom of the tanks,” he says. “There are two big acrylic tunnels [that visitors walk through], and we clean the tunnels. Then there are certain fish we have to make sure get fed. There’s a giant sea bass who eats mackerel [pictured above, with Green], his name is Birch. And there are horn sharks and angel sharks, which we hand feed.”

“I helped make sure the fish were happy, and the kids were happy”

But very soon after he started diving for the aquarium, Green noticed that the institution seemed not to be very well funded. “All of the wetsuits had holes in them,” he recalls. “That’s a problem when you’re diving in water that’s in the 50s.” Problems with machines that regulated water temperature meant that some tanks were occasionally at the wrong temperature for the fish they were meant to hold.

So Green, a Silicon Valley business development executive, took action. He started making donations himself, and organized a couple of dinners for other tech executives to get introduced to the work of the aquarium and bay.org, the consortium of six institutions (including the aquarium) doing watershed conservation around the San Francisco Bay Area. “We got most of [the executives] to donate,” Green said. Over the course of four years starting in 2013, “I basically racked up something like 1,000 hours of volunteering, and did about 350 dives,” he says

Green stopped diving in 2017, but continues to work with the aquarium. “I just got a bit dived out,” he says. “So I started working with the CEO, in development.” Green now does for the aquarium what he gets paid to do for Silicon Valley companies, connecting the institution to donors and other philanthropic groups or corporate offices. “I just took what I had been doing for corporates—business development, strategic partnerships—and translated it into the nonprofit world.”

“Before, I was able to help with the running of the aquarium. I helped make sure it was properly maintained, and the fish were happy, and the kids were happy. But now I’m actually able to help them with monetary donations, which they can be allocating not just to the aquarium but to any part of the organization.”

Though Green has been volunteering for the aquarium for nearly five years now, he has more recently contemplated a paid position there. Given his record of service—to the institution, to the fish, to the kids—the organization would do well to bring him on board. There are certainly plenty of fish in the sea, but few seem as devoted as Green.

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