displays history of undersea exploration
By David N. Young
Jon Council has been on many underwater missions in his life, but his current undertaking is perhaps the most important.
After a worldwide diving career that brought him much acclaim, Council has taken it upon himself to preserve the annals of diving history.
His efforts are attracting much attention to the underwater paradise that surrounds Catalina Island.
Council has enjoyed a fabled career above and under the sea. He is a scuba diver, oceanographer and underwater archeologist, and has worked alongside some of the industry luminaries such as astronaut Scott Carpenter and Dr. George Bass.
Before moving to Catalina Island in 1995, Council had enjoyed working alongside the U.S. Navy, NASA and other agencies developing breakthrough technologies for scientific and sporting underwater exploration.
He began diving back in 1974 and his experience with key programs and historic undertakings gave Council an opprtunity to watch the development of undersea technologies, though he still prefers much of the “vintage” equipment.
After moving to Avalon, Council helped set up a submersible underwater tour then set off again, this time to work with Dr. Bass in the Aagean Sea off the coast of Turkey and Greece looking for ancient shipwrecks. They found six of them.
Once back in Avalon, Council began to implement his long-held idea of a diving museum. Stuck in his mind was the fact that scuba diving had been invented off the San Diego coast in 1933 so he thought Avalon would be the perfect spot for a diving history exhibit. Today there are more than 130 Dive clubs in California, he said.
For many years Council worked to secure space for his exhibit inside one of the most iconic buildings in the world – the Avalon Casino. He finally succeeded and opened in May of 2017.
“Much of this is what I have collected,” said Council, while he said friends and associated have either contributed or sold him other rare underwater artifacts. Council prides himself with having the porthole from a historic chamber used in the Genesis project.
Photographs of Carpenter and other famous divers adorn the walls of the casino exhibit, while other media, diving masks, rare tanks from 1936 and rare diving bells fill the unique exhibit.
Council is still in touch with many of the astronauts, having worked with them during much of their training that involved underwater activities to simulate the weightlessness of space.
“We recently crossed the threshold of 20,000 visitors,” said Council, who quickly pointed to an official notification from Google indicating that the Avalon Diving History Exhibit had acquired more than 50,000 online searches.
For sure there are dozens, if not hundreds, of known diving sites around the perimeter of Catalina Island. Near the Dive Park are some of the most famous kelp beds known by divers all over the world.
During the interview, Council opens a bird cage and out flies a warbler, a tiny bird that Council has been nurturing back to health. Amazingly, it flies around the exhibit, goes outside for a while then comes back to the cage.
“Birds are really smart,” he says, showcasing his extensive knowledge of marine animals that he’s gathered from a lifetime of rescues. In 2013, Council organized the L.A. chapter of the Marine Animal Rescue program, and it too is now housed in the Casino Diving Exhibit.
Since founding the chapter, Council and his team have been responsible for 832 rescues, including birds, turtles, deer, island foxes, etc.
Council is extremely proud of the exhibit and what a factor it is becoming in attracting divers and underwater tourists to the island.
Visitors have been astonished at some of rare artifacts in the exhibit, with some exclaiming Council has attracted items that “should be in the Smithsonian” but are in this tiny exhibit created by the vision of a legendary underwater enthusiast.
Obviously, Council has been a part of diving history and his exhibit is bringing incredible scuba diving knowledge to the surface. Better on display in Avalon than proverbially buried forever 20,000 leagues under the sea.