Eco-warriors take the plunge

Thirteen environmentally conscious students from Grace Christian Academy recently undertook their first open-water dives, the final requirement for their PADI Open Water Diver certification.

Science teacher Natalie Barber was the driving force behind the project, having completed her own Diving Instructor training in order to be able to pass on her passion for the sport and the underwater world to her students.

The students, ages 11-16, were among a number of children at the school who had previously been licenced through the Department of Environment as lionfish cullers. The logical next step for them to be able to start culling the invasive species was to learn how to scuba dive.

Miss Barber approached parents with her idea of teaching the students to dive at the school and the project grew from there, she said.

The course, which is taught in five modules, is demanding even for adults, but all the students completed their theory lessons, quizzes and an exam, as well as several pool sessions and four open water dives.

“I am really proud of them. They all worked so hard,” says Miss Barber.

In addition to academic performance, students have to complete some 200 hours of community service in order to graduate. Now that these students are certified divers, they can put an environmental slant on their community service, devoting some time to underwater cleanup, lionfish culling and reef surveys.

The programme would not have been possible without the support of Ambassador Divers, who transported dive gear to the school for the students to conduct their pool lessons, and took them out on their boat for their open water dives, Miss Barber emphasises.

Ultimately, she hopes that some of these students will pursue diving to a professional level, eventually becoming divemasters and instructors.

“It’s a great thing for any of them to have on their resumes. It shows dedication and commitment, and for those who are not so academically inclined it opens up other potential career paths,” she says.

Now that they are certified they can join Ambassador Divers’ Divemaster Internship.

“They basically work as apprentice divemasters. They come out on the boat, act as look-outs, help guests with their gear and so on. In return they get their dive training for free,” said Jason Washington, dive shop owner. Washington is keen to get as many local children as possible involved in this programme, not only to see them working in the watersports industry, but also to foster a greater appreciation of the underwater world among students.

“These kids will be environmental ambassadors who will in turn educate their peers,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”