Dr. Sonia J. Rowley is a Research Biologist at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, USA. She

primarily uses the Divesoft Liberty CCR for her field research on gorgonian corals at depths of over 150 meters. Dr. Rowley has over 36 years of diving and commercial ship experience throughout the IndoPacific, Europe, Africa, and Australasia.

In addition to CCR, she is a Freediver and conducts deep-sea research using submersible, ROV, and AUV’s on deep-ocean seamount chains such as the Hawaiian Islands, and Louisville Seamount chain (NZ).

Dr. Rowley's primary research focus is on the evolutionary relationships within and between the coral holobiont and its environment, primarily focusing on gorgonian (sea fan) corals. She seeks to understand the biological success of this group, in particular, to its dominance at mesophotic and deeper ocean depths (>50m) of the Indo Pacific. This is achieved through integrating cross-disciplinary approaches from experimental field ecology using CCR, genomics (phylogeography, systematics, and symbiosis), functional morphology, and physiology, in order to further understand phenotypic responses to environmental change over ecological and geological (deep) time.

Over the past decade, her research has shown that mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) within the Indo-Pacific are thermally dynamic environments, and are dominated by diverse assemblages of gorgonian octocorals. Sonia has been awarded the Sir. David Attenborough Award for Fieldwork for her gorgonian research on the mesophotic and shallow reefs of Micronesia.

Dr. Rowley is a Fellow National of the Explorers Club (FN18), A Fellow of the Linnean Society of London (FLS), and the Royal Society of Biology (MRSB), UK. She sees that the most powerful tool for change is to share knowledge and experience gained in the pursuit of scientific understanding and discovery. To this end, Dr. Rowley has conducted numerous presentations around the globe, served as a senior project supervisor and lecturer to graduate and undergraduate-level students, and has led or participated in research expeditions in over 25 countries.

Interview with Sonia

What (or who) persuaded you to become a professional diver?

My parents, Mike and Penny Rowley, began diving when I was 3 years of age. They quickly

became instructors and eventually owned and ran the diving charter vessel Maureen of Dart in the UK. Life, basically, was and still is all about diving! In the very early days, I would bob about in the shallows wearing half of my elder brother’s wetsuit. I simply wanted to know what everything was, and how and why it did what it was doing. The more I dive, the more I want to dive, therefore, it became imperative to do it, somehow, for a living. I’m not instructor material; however, do love to share everything that I discover in the natural world.

Describe your biggest challenge when diving.

The most significant challenge when diving is the end of the dive. The most significant challenge about diving is not diving! The most significant challenge about divers are the queen bees and misogynists who waste time and compromise safety.

Which diving achievement are you most proud of?

Being awarded the Sir David Attenborough Award for Fieldwork in 2016. Diving is its own reward; however, witnessing other people's reaction towards this achievement helped me see that perhaps my research was worthy, could make a difference, and bring about awareness of an astonishingly biodiverse ecosystem that held many secrets which I have the skills to explore and help unravel. It has also symbolized to me, my tenacity in the pursuit of diving, research, and discovery against significant odds.

What was your first diving experience like?

My first diving experience was phenomenal; I was 11 years of age and my father took me on a shore dive in the Summer Isles, an archipelago of the Scottish Highlands. As we descended into the kelp forest I was astonished by the water clarity, and how different it was from the snorkeling I’d been doing in the previous years. As a youngster, I would often be tasked with taking the wives or girlfriends for a snorkel whilst everyone else went diving. It was often commented on how much I would squeal with delight when seeing some exciting critter! With diving, however, I was 100% immersed in an astonishingly beautiful environment, and it was also extremely liberating and put life into complete perspective. I recall the light beams, which shot through the forest and lit up the brightly coloured rainbow wrasses. The kelp fronds seemed punctuated by huge purple sea urchins and the most enormous orange starfishes. It was literally crystal clear and remarkable how I no longer felt like a tiny pinched face in a mass of heavy, oversized gear. I felt free and unencumbered by anything or anyone.

Why do you prefer rebreather?

Peace, longevity, and freedom to achieve the research objectives that I set out to achieve. I’m ambitious, curious, and want to learn more about the natural world; what everything is, what they are doing there, how are they surviving, how can I investigate, and effectively share what I’m discovering? How can I share this so that others will experience the change in perspective, such that we will treat the natural world with increasingly more respect? Nature is deeply fascinating and will always persist; yet in what capacity, is down to us. As humans, we have far too much power to destroy natural phenomena and beauty.

What's your favorite diving gear?

I value all my diving gear.

What's your favourite diving spot?

Oh no, I can’t possibly answer that; there’s still so much to experience and discover! I’m not at a place where I can say, “that’s my favourite”. In all honesty, it’s all good, I love it!


18. 11. 2020 DIVERNET

Learn more >

Petra Pruden: Deep Sonia. Find pages 28-29-30-31.

10. 6. 2020 THE SCUBA NEWS

Learn more >

Dr. Sonia J. Rowley - Deep Coral Ecosystems, the Pursuit of Scientific Discovery.