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Diving into Diversity

Empowering island youth: Scuba diving as a pathway to marine sciences.

By Alizee Zimmermann, Turks & Caicos Reef Fund ~ Photos By Reginald Beckford Jr.

Close your eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Descend. The light shimmers above, penetrating through crystal-clear water and creating patterns along the sand, rainbows that dance in and out of the schools of fish darting around the coral reef. If you’ve been diving or snorkeling, you know what I mean. There’s something magical about being suspended, harnessing anti-gravitational powers, observing and interacting with a whole new world—one full of colour and wonder. 

Sterling Henry practices his newly acquired diving skills in the pool.

Scuba diving has a transformative ability and is a powerful means of unlocking potential and creating pathways to marine sciences. Above all though, seeing is believing. Diving creates a connection between divers and the environment that sustains us that can and will lead to a community of persons who care deeply for the ocean. 

Here in the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), the ocean is a part of our history and culture, not to mention the very key to our survival as a small island nation. The people of these Islands possess invaluable insights into the ocean’s resources, ecosystems, and sustainable practices that have been passed down through generations. However, there are a disproportionately small number of local dive instructors and an even smaller number of homegrown marine and environmental scientists. The Turks & Caicos Reef Fund (TCRF) wants to change that.

Recognizing the significance of diversity within the marine and scientific community is crucial to a sustainable and equitable future for people and planet. This is known, but not emphasized enough globally and when it comes to islands like ours, empowering communities is even more crucial for fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of marine sciences and current environmental issues. 

Back in March of 2022, at a small fundraiser, the concept of “22 in 2022” was born. TCRF committed to teaching 22 youngsters to dive before the end of the year. By December, we had, through a variety of small grants and private donations, funded and taught 28 students! So far in 2023, we have run 3 courses and have certified 15 more. With opportunities for further dive training and by encouraging our students to get involved with our conservation work through volunteering and learning new skills, it has been inspiring to see a positive volunteer retention rate from our students. The next step is to create a club that goes shore-diving at least once a month, further helping with the continuation of individuals’ diving education. 

Benefits of teaching scuba diving

Students are learning to assemble and disassemble their gear at the Dive Provo pool.

1. Cultural pride and preservation: Scuba diving education instils a sense of cultural pride among young people as they connect with their heritage and the marine resources that have sustained our communities for generations. It allows people to see their cultural practices and knowledge as valuable assets in marine sciences, fostering a sense of identity and empowerment.

2. Environmental stewardship: Diving nurtures a deep sense of responsibility and stewardship towards the marine environment. By experiencing the wonders of the underwater world firsthand, it is almost impossible not to develop a personal connection and a vested interest in preserving the fragile ecosystems that surround these Islands. 

3. Career opportunities: Equipping our youth with scuba diving skills opens doors to diverse career opportunities, not only within the marine sciences but in tourism as well. As a country we import most of our dive instructors—early access to diving is how we start to change that. By nurturing talent and passion, we can create a pathway for people to contribute to the sustainable development of their own communities and economies. 

We can enable people to become active participants in scientific research. Sharks4Kids (www.sharks4kids.com) is a perfect example of this, as well as active involvement in conservation efforts. Several of our volunteers have been employed to work on projects with TCRF as well as with the TC National Trust (@tcnationaltrust_ on Instagram). The possibilities with dive tourism, marine resource management, and other related fields are endless. 

Local artist Wellington Williams helps tend to the Reef Fund’s coral nursery.

4. Community engagement and empowerment: Teaching scuba diving fosters a sense of community. People become ambassadors, sharing their knowledge and experiences with fellow community members, inspiring others to appreciate and protect the marine environment. This engagement strengthens community bonds and collective efforts towards sustainable practices and conservation.

By encouraging inclusivity and breaking down barriers, we can unlock the untapped potential and unique perspectives that diversity offers, leading to innovative solutions and a more sustainable future for our oceans. Through scuba diving education, we offer pathways to career opportunities, environmental stewardship, cultural preservation, and community empowerment. 

Join the movement and invest in the next generation of local scuba divers. Our program has grown exponentially, in no small part thanks to a partnership with Dive Provo (www.diveprovo.com), a dive operation committed to environmental protection and community development.  Join us today and together we can inspire people to become stewards and advocates for the marine environment, fostering sustainable practices and a brighter future for our communities and the oceans we all depend on.

Visit www.tcreef.org for more information or to donate.



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