Christopher K. Millbern – 2016 North American Rolex Scholar

owuss-100Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society
Robin MacFadden Parish
March 1, 2016

Dear OWUSS Friends,

It is my very great pleasure to announce that Mr. Christopher K. Millbern, from Sierra Madre, California was selected on February 29th to be the 2016 North American Rolex Scholar of the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society. Chris turned 26 years old today. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California Los Angeles.  He currently works as a Diver Medic for an ecological survey company. He is a Certified Hyperbaric Technologist, and is also certified as both an Emergency Medical Technician and a Wilderness Medical Technician. He is an AAUS Scientific Diver and is a NAUI Divemaster in training. Chris’s primary underwater interests are hyperbaric medicine and diver safety, as well as ecological research and conservation. Through the experiences of the scholarship, he hopes to use his background in backcountry medicine and hyperbarics to become a useful member of a research diving team.

The Scholarship Selection Committee feels that Chris is highly qualified to excel in his role representing the Scholarship Society and has the determination and passion to make a lasting contribution to the underwater world in the future.

I am sure you will all wish to join me in welcoming Chris to the Scholarship family and wish him success in his upcoming year of challenge, adventure, and learning. He can be reached at

A full bio and photo will follow shortly.

With kindest regards,


Robin MacFadden Parish


OWUSS-Photo-200BIO – Christopher K. Millbern

Chris Millbern is a latecomer to the underwater world, but his passion for diver safety and adventure has made him a natural fit for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society’s Rolex Scholarship Program.

Born 26 years ago in Newport Beach, California, Chris was raised on ocean swims and thousands of viewings of National Geographic’s “Really Wild Animals: Deep Sea Dive” VHS tape, which he of course still holds on to today.  Majoring at UCLA in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, Chris became a concerned conservationist and backpacking guide, combining his love of adventure sports, photography, and the biological sciences in any way possible.  Research was his mission; while enrolled, Chris participated in studies involving Belizean crocodilian parasitology, the effects of anthropogenic noise on Nicaraguan spider monkeys, heavy metal poisoning in Arizona rattlesnakes, as well as earning the Santa Monica Audubon Society Research Award for his work on anticoagulant poisoning in local bobcat populations. He learned a deep appreciation for the importance of protecting our environment, but he missed the ocean and his young dreams of exploring with National Geographic simply didn’t look possible.

It wasn’t until a spontaneous Open Water class his senior year that everything changed.  Realizing how much he was missing by living on the surface, Chris became instantly dedicated to making the world of diving his own.  In the next two years, he would become a PADI Rescue Diver, AAUS Scientific Diver, and join the UCLA Gonda Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine as an E.M.T. and Certified Hyperbaric Technologist.  Working with patients in hundreds of chamber dives, he became enamored with hyperbaric medicine and took every opportunity to teach it.  He has given educational talks to local dive shops, high school programs, visiting physicians, and even the 95th Aerospace Medical Squadron from Edwards Air Force Base.

While working at the chamber, Chris became involved in a number of research initiatives focused on diver safety concerning transport of injured divers, nation-wide hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) availability, and emergency equipment testing.  Most importantly, he was introduced to a problem facing artisanal fishermen in Mexico: equipped with tool-grade air compressors, surface-supplied hoses, and little to no safety precautions, divers’ air sources were being contaminated with engine exhaust and annual decompression illness rates exceeded 75% of the diving population.  In response, Chris helped design and machine in his own garage an effective snorkel that could elevate the intake above the exhaust fumes, but was also detachable, made of inexpensive and common materials, and drastically reduced carbon monoxide concentrations.  After raising the necessary funds, Chris and the UCLA Hyperbaric team traveled to the Yucatan and worked with community leaders to install these devices and measure their effectiveness.  In addition, they taught safer diving practices and oxygen delivery for injured divers.  Today the design and lessons have spread to multiple cities and fishing cooperatives, and will hopefully continue to save lives for years to come.  Seeing the enormous variance in diving practices and equipment, Chris has made it his life goal to continue introducing safe diving practices and innovative solutions to problems facing divers around the world.  In doing so, he hopes to always place focus on incorporating the local cultures, communities, and needs of divers to create lasting effects and sustained progress wherever he goes.

As a newly minted Diver Medic, Chris has begun working with ecological survey groups across the California coast.  Balancing his love of conservation and hyperbaric medicine, he first wants to develop his skills as a diver so as to better contribute to the teams and projects he works on.  Encouraging marine preserves through responsible ecotourism, driving research and public policy towards pragmatic solutions, and bringing a love of the ocean to a new generation of divers are all things Chris hopes to achieve. Most importantly, he wants to give back: “The underwater world has given me a sense of purpose and the community has given me a home.  All I really want is to keep the environment safe, and the people who protect and enjoy it even safer.”


About Gene Muchanski

Executive Director at Dive Industry Association. Board Member at Dive Industry Foundation. Marketing Consultant to the Diving Industry. I have been a certified Scuba Diver since I was 15 years old and have been a passionate waterman for as long as I can remember.
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