Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#466: Just how "Safe" is Your Money?

Now I'm just a humble evolutionary ecologist and have absolutely no training in economics at all. It was just one of those subjects I shunned as uninteresting while an undergraduate at Harvard, and there was no such requirement in my Ph.D. program at UCSB. Had I such training, I might be the owner of a thriving biological consulting firm instead of a starving divebum! What little knowledge I had came from my grandfather and my parents. Back in the 60s or 70s Gramps told me not to buy stock. He survived the Great Depression, did well and I followed that advice. Then when he was in his late 80s or early 90s, I asked him how he was doing in retirement. His response? "Great, I get wonderful dividends from my utility stocks." But Grampa, you said not to buy stock! His response: "That was then." He also advised me never to buy a house until I could pay cash for it. Of course the inflationary spiral that led to the housing bubble bursting wasn't as much a factor when he was in the real estate market.

I'm quickly approaching retirement, but have to wonder how one can retire when one doesn't really have a financially rewarding job... you know, one with a regular paycheck, health insurance and a pension! One possible answer is to retire in the Philippines where there are 7,107 different islands, warm tropical diving and lovely Filipinas who might think my Buddha belly is cute. I never once invested in anything other than creating great memories during a life I consider well-lived. I invested in the future of the country by teaching its youth in my early years. I invested in helping to ensure the future of our environment by making people aware of it and the reasons to protect it. But I never invested in anything that would pay my bills when I'm old and gray... except Social Security (which some Congressional fat cats with their own golden retirement plan want to whittle away).

By this time you're probably wondering what this column has to do with the marine environment. I was beginning to think the same thing! Maybe I've already reached the stage of Old Timers and am just rambling on. Obviously that is no joke to the ones who suffer from it or their families. No, my mind is still sharp as a tack. Ouch! I'm getting to my point. The question is this "Is there any safe haven for one's fortune?" Or even the few pennies I have managed to save in my piggy bank? Given the debacle of the Wall Street (and Main Street) gamblers in recent years, a bank hardly seems the best place to put one's money these days. At less than 1% interest, I'd be dead by the time its value doubled. Am I the only who misses the Jimmy Carter era when I could easily live off the interest alone on my meager savings?

Come on, doctor... get to the point! OK. Many of those that don't trust the banks resort to stuffing money under their mattresses. But that's not the answer... and you sleep much less soundly due to the lumps! Others install safes of varying sizes (do the big ones always contain the most $$$?). Now I'll make the connection. A few years ago, 2003 I believe based on my earliest underwater video of it, the Harbor Department decided to sink a safe in the dive park. I never heard if there was anything in it, nor have any safe crackers descended to find out. They wanted the heavy safe to sink in deeper water, but the air contained within it was sufficient to overcome the weight of steel and it floated in towards shore... coming to rest in about 20-25 ft of water near Little Casino Reef.

I have visited that safe ever since it landed in King Neptune's domain. Initially it was out of my interest in seeing what algae and critters colonized the safe and in what sequence. We ecologists refer to that as succession, the progression of species that eventually create an ecosystem on once bare habitat. For example, when Catalina was just emerging from beneath the sea as tectonic forces from the colliding plates created the mountain ranges, valleys, island ridges and deep ocean basins of southern California, it was largely barren rock. Gradually plants began to colonize it through wind and dispersal of their seed by birds. Once vegetation was established, plant eaters (herbivores) could colonize Catalina... followed by their predators. It would do no good if a mouse rafted over early on and found no plants to eat, or a hawk flew over before there were mice to munch on.

In recent years my visits have also been to document the deterioration of the safe due to the corrosive action of salt water on steel. Since I'm involved in the California Ships-to-Reefs organization that seeks to sink a large vessel off Catalina's coast to attract divers from near and far, this is a topic that interests me. In the eight short years the safe has been immersed, large portions of the outer cabinet have rusted away. So far the inner sanctum, with its potential treasure, has remained intact. The nooks and crannies created by the deterioration have led some fish, including bottom dwelling kelp rockfish to rest "safe" within it. Now I'm hoping that when it finally rusts completely through, and exposes any goodies inside, that I'll still be alive and able to dive to harvest the bounty. Maybe then I can actually retire in style!

© 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!

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Halfmoon rubbing on safe and algae growing on it back in 2003; rusted safe today and kelp rockfish "safe" inside

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