STEM Logo

Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#432: Pass the "Plate"

Long before I saw the movie "The Bucket List," I had scrawled off a list of my own. It has changed over the decades, of course. I no longer plan to visit the Moon or Mars like I hoped to when I was 10 years old observing the skies with my first telescope. However, I DO want to visit and dive all seven continents before I kick the proverbial pail. So far I've dived North America, Europe, Asia and Australia in that order. Based on my sixth grade geography class, that leaves South America, Africa and Antarctica... unless you consider Oceania a "continent" like some divers I know. Even if you do, I've dived it. Twice I've planned to go to Africa (the Red Sea) only to be stopped by 9-11 and now the Egyptian Revolution. And I had a free ride to dive the Galapagos off Ecuador... until my son and his sweetheart decided to get married the day I was to arrive there. Of course they came first!

I spend a lot of time on ScubaBoard.com with the 100,000+ other members discussing various dive-related topics (as well as politics, religion, etc. in "The Pub" forums there). Recently a member posted a poll asking how many continents others had dived. The discussion led to some interesting results, which I thought I'd share with my readers. One that had personal interest was when some divers suggested they had dived South America because they had been to the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) located 15 to 50 miles off the coast of that continent.

A few years ago I, too, had considered Bonaire as a possible South American dive site to visit. It is easy to get to, has great diving and is politically controlled by the Dutch, a country with some very lovely lady-go-divers! Before buying my plane ticket, I decided to check with our own National Geographic Society to verify it was considered a South American destination. Much to my dismay, they responded it was not! Although Bonaire is only about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, it is located not on the South American tectonic plate but on the Caribbean Plate. Therefore it did not qualify as a dive destination to help complete my bucket list.

Back in the mid- to late-1960s plate tectonics was a dirty word in my circles (looks like it is once more!). The hypothesis that the continents floated on a number of different "plates" that were moving about due to convection currents formed by molten magma was considered absurd by my Harvard mentor, Dr. H. Barraclough Fell. Instead, Dr. Fell thought that the Earth's rotational axis had shifted over the many million years of our planet's existence (sorry Bishop Usher). As a member of Barry's group, I assisted in trying to prove his theory of "polar meandering" using a computer the size of my condo! Within a few years we were proven wrong, and I learned a valuable lesson in science... always be open to new data and new theories when the evidence contradicts your own beliefs. Actually, that is a good lesson for those in all walks of life to learn.

After reading the "How many continents have you dived?" thread on ScubaBoard this morning, and "correcting" those who felt they had dived South America, I gave added thought to this. National Geographic considers Bonaire to be a Caribbean island and therefore not a part of any continent. Politically it is Dutch... so could I consider it a European dive site? After all, Santa Catalina Island off Nicaragua in Central America is owned by Columbia and is considered a South American dive site! You can see that this can get very confusing, even for one like myself who is a former professor of geography at UCSB!

Hmmm... speaking of that Santa Catalina Island, how about the place I dive the most? Of course politically we all know our own Catalina is part of the United States and specifically the State of Californeeya (oh, wait... he's no longer governator). How? Just look at your tax bills. However, is it part of North America? Why no! Catalina and most of the dry land west of the San Andreas Fault is actually on the Pacific Plate along with Hawaii rather than the North American Plate! Geologically we are not even part of North America. Hmmm... does that mean we have a perfectly legitimate reason to secede from the Union, and not pay all those taxes? I'll leave that up to the lawyers since all I want to do is dive... assuming I can find the $$$.

© 2011 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

To return to the list of ALL of Dr. Bill's "Dive Dry" newspaper columns, click here.


Maps of the world's geologic plates showing the contact between the Pacific and North American plates
(lower left) and the Caribbean and South American plates (lower right).

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2011 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia