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scuba diver
Photo courtesy NOAA/Dept. of Commerce
To become a scuba diver, you must be at least ten years old and take an open water certification course. See more pictures of marine life.

In 1943, the famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, along with Emile Gagnan, invented the aqualung, more commonly referred to as scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus). Scuba made divers more mobile and revolutionized exploration of the oceans. Since then, many advances in scuba technology have made the equipment easier to use, safer and more affordable, allowing many people to enjoy this fascinating adventure. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) says that each year, almost 1-million people get certified for recreational scuba diving. You can undertake weekend outings to explore offshore shipwrecks and coral reefs or go on longer dive vacations to exotic locations, perhaps meeting such creatures as sharks, dolphins and whales.

In this article, we will look at the underwater world, examine the scuba equipment and explore how your body reacts to the underwater environment. You'll also find out what you need to do to take part in this sport.

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­The underwater environment is hostile to humans and offers unique challenges to the scuba diver with respect to breathing, temperature control, visibility and buoyancy. The basic equipment that you need for scuba diving allows you to cope with the underwater environment. In total, you carry 60 to 75 pounds (27 to 34 kg) of equipment with you into and out of the water.

Let's take a closer lo­ok at the equipment. First we'll find out what it takes to control temperature and buoyancy.