Diver explores marine world, undersea history

By Daniel Rothberg

With his scuba certification in hand, Alexander Jaffe ’11 embarked on an unforgettable journey to the British Virgin Islands in the summer of 2008. There, Jaffe plunged into the ocean depths, prepared to undertake a wreck dive that would soon become one of his favorite dives.

Although this ranks first on the list of Jaffe’s favorite dives, fast currents made it more difficult to dive down. However, once underwater, Jaffe could see the ruins of the R.M.S Rhone, an old British cargo ship that sank in 1867.

“We got to swim through portions of the wreck and there were big sea turtles and all sorts of fish,” Jaffe said. “It is a great thing to dive because there is so much history in it also.”

In 2004, Jaffe went on a retreat to the Catalina Island Marine Institute with his sixth grade class. During the retreat, Jaffe got a chance to observe ocean environments both actively by snorkeling and mentally by attending mini-classes.

Though he did not know it at the time, this retreat would serve as a catalyst, jump-starting his interest in marine biology. Inspired by the retreat, Jaffe became an avid scuba diver, earning his scuba certification just a few years later.

To further broaden his understanding of the ocean ecosystem, Jaffe spent the last summer interning for an evolutionary biologist at UCLA.

This biologist specializes in determining the evolutionary history of tropical reef fish, focusing on eels. At the lab, Jaffe helped compile the evolutionary tree. Additionally, Jaffe helped do work with DNA from many different species of eel.

“It’s nice to know what you see down there,” Jaffe said. “But as you [scuba dive] more and more, naturally you start to learn more about the environment and the animals.”

When he is not out diving, Jaffe works at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, where he helps teach visitors about the animals while they peruse the exhibits.

Recently, Jaffe helped found a scuba diving club that hopes to set up a couple of dive trips where students can either get certified or go diving.

“It should be a really great opportunity for the Harvard-Westlake community as a whole to learn more about and experience this great sport,” Jaffe said.