(CMR) Department of Environment employee Sabrina Douglas became the first Caymanian to journey into Cayman Rise (Trench) when she made the trip in submarine ‘Alvin' recently.
Douglas, who is the daughter of a seafarer, took the two-hour journey as part of a research project with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which is studying the deepest parts of the ocean.
According to the National Deep Submergence Facility, which gave an account of the journey, Douglas found the journey exciting, but she was very focused on carrying out her duties.
“She seemed like a total natural when she started taking imagery and logging observations. She had exceptional situational awareness that you don’t often see in first-time divers,” veteran diver Tim Shank recalled.
While her dive in Alvin was certainly a highlight, Douglas also enjoyed every day of work on Atlantis.
Her role on the ship was a critical one: before each dive, Douglas created the underlays (pictures that illustrate depths and terrain of dive areas) by combining bathymetry, contours, and dive targets. After each dive is complete, she created GIS tracking to show exactly where Alvin went.
According to the National Deep Submergence Facility, when she was not busy with her own work, Douglas helped other members of the science team process their samples and occasionally wanders up to the bridge to learn about how Atlantis operates as a whole.
“From the bridge, there are so many different aspects you have to think about. I like planning. I like that you have to foresee everything to keep the ship running smoothly,” she said.
Growing up in Savannah, Grand Cayman, Douglas spent much of her childhood in the ocean. She learned to swim as a toddler and started scuba diving at the age of 10.
“The first time I ever went diving, I felt so calm. It was exactly where I wanted to be, watching the marine life and the whole ecosystem—seeing how every little part does something. From then on, it was marine biology all the way,” Douglas shared.
Two decades later, Douglas works for the Cayman Islands Department of Environment as a geographic information system (GIS) and field support specialist. While her education took her abroad—she studied biology at the University of Guelph in Canada, then earned a master’s degree in Marine Resource Development and Protection at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland—Douglas returned to the Cayman Islands to be close to family.
As a lover of ocean science, Douglas has always been aware of research vessels and the unique studies they facilitate. But she never thought she’d work on one—especially one that operates a famous submersible.
Douglas said, “My dad is really proud of me since he’s a seafarer. Both of my parents are thrilled, but I think my brother might be the most excited. When I told him about the dive, he said, ‘it’s like you’re going to the moon!’”
She continued, “This seems like a really nice mark to make in the world. For such a small nation, it’s a big point of pride to say I was the first Caymanian to do this.”
Following her trip, Douglas visited Government House, accompanied by her parents, where she shared details about her recent trip to the Cayman Trench with Governor Martyn Roper.
Douglas presented the Governor with a piece of rock from the depths and a Styrofoam cup that traveled on the outside of the submarine and, as a result, dramatically shrunk.