Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, June 3, 2016

Realtor Dan Griess gives back through volunteer dive program

Realtor Dan Griess is a volunteer diver for the Tennessee Aquarium. Here, he keeps an eye on a sand tiger shark as it passes close to where other divers are cleaning one of the Aquarium’s exhibits. - (Photo by David Laprad)

As a Realtor, Dan Griess spends his days overseeing the details of an array of business transactions. But he works with sharks just once a month.

Griess is a volunteer diver for the Tennessee Aquarium. One Wednesday a month, he takes off his Realtor hat, slips on his SCUBA gear, and descends into the blue depths of the Aquarium’s exhibits. There, he keeps an eye on the Aquarium’s sharks as his fellow divers scrub algae off rocks.

Griess’ tool for the job is a bump stick, a body-length rod that forms a “T” on either end. This allows Griess to establish a shark-free zone for the other divers. He doesn’t shove or prod the animals, though; he simply creates a barrier into which a shark might bump.

“The sharks don’t associate the divers with food, so they mind their own business,” Griess says before his dive the morning of May 25. “We’re in their territory, though, so they do come close.”

Griess says his heart sometimes beats a little faster as a shark approaches, but out of awe, not fear. “I can be just a few feet away from a 250-pound shark, and I’ll think it’s cool,” he says. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I feel comfortable around them.”

With shark sightings a relative rarity in the wild, volunteer diving for the Aquarium gives Griess an opportunity only a few of the more than three million active SCUBA divers in the U.S. experience. It also allows him to swim with many other species of fish and marine life. The Secret Reef portion of the Ocean Journey exhibit alone features some of the Aquarium’s most jaw-dropping animals, including toothy, 10-foot sand tiger sharks, sleeker sandbar sharks, thousands of colorful reef fish, and larger Crevalle Jacks. Two impressive Green Sea Turtles also keep Griess and his fellow divers company as they work.

“A diver rarely encounters this many fish in an open water dive in the ocean,” Griess says. “It’s a real treat.”

Griess has been diving since he was teen. Already an excellent swimmer from having grown up near water, he was introduced to the activity while snorkeling through the coral reefs of the Bahamas during a sailing trip with the Boy Scouts.

Ten years ago, Griess was introduced to the Aquarium’s volunteer dive program through a neighbor. Griess tried his hand at helping out, and has been hooked ever since. He says it’s a great way to not only give back but to also step away from work for a day and clear his mind. “It’s fun. I enjoy doing this,” he says.

Griess also likes his coal black diving suit. “It has a slimming effect,” he jokes.

One hundred and eighty five divers currently volunteer their services at the Aquarium. Barring Thanksgiving and Christmas, at least a few of them are in the water every day, cleaning and maintaining the exhibits, feeding the animals, and doing live education programs for the Aquarium’s visitors. Mark Craven, dive safety officer, says these volunteers are vital to the Aquarium’s operation.

“We dive 363 days a year to maintain our facility, and we rely on the local diving community to fill those positions,” he says. “There’s no way we could run this facility without our volunteers.”

Although Griess is the general manager of the local Crye-Leike offices, he’s not in business mode while he’s in the water. Still, he’s sold houses to people he’s met through the program. “When you give back, it comes back to you,” he says.

Now fully suited up, Griess and a fellow diver walk down a set of stairs that takes them into the Secret Reef. His bump stick in hand, he plunges into the tank, eager for another day of swimming with sharks.

To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.

For information about becoming a volunteer diver for the Tennessee Aquarium, visit www.tnaqua.org/volunteer-opportunities/volunteer-diver. Also, read the story on page 19 titled “Try SCUBA at the Chattanooga Market June 4 and 5.”