Meet Dr. Jonathan Dowell
President of ReefNews

I learned to scuba dive because I'm madly in love with my wife. When I moved to New Mexico in 1989, I was afraid of water. When I was a kid, I took swimming lessons at the pool in Bethany, Missouri. I was a fairly good swimmer, and really liked diving off the diving board. But one day at a swimming lesson, I almost drowned. I guess I was just tired, but I couldn't make it to the edge of the pool. I was in deep water, and I sank. I remember inhaling water, and the swimming teacher jumped in and pulled me out of the pool. In 1977, my family moved to a new town, and that was the end of my swimming. Even though that was a long time ago, what I remember most vividly about swimming was almost drowning that day at the swimming pool.

But my wife, Tessa Dowell, is a scuba diver. We were married in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1990. Tessa thought that since she was marrying me, her scuba diving was over once and for all. But in 1995, we took a vacation to the Caribbean island of Cayman Brac so Tessa could scuba dive one more time. She had the great idea that I should learn how to swim again, so then we could wade in shallow water in the ocean together, and maybe even snorkel together. With great fear I arranged to take swimming lessons at the pool in Los Alamos. My swimming teacher was very patient. She said that it would probably take 200 hours to learn to be comfortable in the water, as this was about average for adults learning to swim. At first, I was terrified. I would stand waist deep in only 3 feet of water, but I would get scared and start breathing hard. It was really hard to learn to be in the water again. Slowly, I gained skill. I bought some swimming goggles that had lenses like my glasses, so then I could see. That made it a lot easier. Then I bought a wetsuit, like scuba divers wear. This helped me float, and made swimming just a little easier. I finally tried some snorkeling gear, and that was so much easier than swimming that I could stay in the pool for a long time. When I was really comfortable, I decided that since snorkeling was easy I would try scuba diving. I realized that if I had scuba gear, then I didn't need to worry about trying to stay afloat. Scuba diving was so much easier than swimming that I became a good scuba diver. Now, after hours of practice, I'm comfortable in the water. This lets me be a good swimmer. Finally!

On April 29, 1995, my scuba class went to the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The Blue Hole is an artesian spring, 60 feet across and 81 feet deep. The spring produces 3000 gallons of fresh water every minute. The water is very cold, 61 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to wear two layers of wetsuits to stay warm. It is hard moving around in all that rubber. The wetsuit was so buoyant that I had to wear 16 pounds of lead to sink under the water. The water was deep, and it scared me once again. But I passed my tests and got a license to be a scuba diver. In the first picture, I'm holding a patch that certifies that I am a licensed scuba diver. In the next picture, I'm making a "giant stride" to jump off a pier into the water wearing my scuba gear.

Knowing what it was like to be scared in the water actually helps me be a safer scuba diver. Many people have serious accidents when something goes wrong underwater, because they are surprised, get scared, and then panic. Because I am so familiar with what it feels like to be scared in the water, I'm less likely to panic when something goes wrong. This helps me be a safer scuba diver.

The first time I dove in the ocean, I was really scared. I didn't know what it would be like to be in the huge ocean, or what terrifying sharks lurked there to eat me. But as I dove down to the coral reef there were hundreds of beautiful fishes everywhere. I was amazed at the number of living creatures and astonished by their beauty. I forgot all about being afraid. I haven't been afraid of the ocean since then. I realized that I should share this beautiful ocean with as many people as I could, while it is still here to appreciate. That is how ReefNews was born.

Here Jonathan Dowell dives in 40 feet of water at Front Porch Reef on the island of Bonaire. He is hovering above a Purple Tube Sponge. Purple Tube Sponges are common on Bonaire, and are much like the Yellow Tube Sponges that are found near the island of Cayman Brac. Jonathan's brightly colored scuba gear makes it easier to see him underwater.

Here Jonathan Dowell is getting ready to dive from a dive boat on the island of Grand Turk. He is admiring the beautiful ocean on the west coast of this island with his friend, Assistant Skipper Louie. Louie lives on Grand Turk.

Tessa Dowell took these photographs.

Back to Meet the ReefNews Staff

Copyright © 1998, 2002, ReefNews, Inc.
95 Obsidian Loop
Los Alamos, NM 87544

Questions, Comments? Write to!