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by Amanda White
Header photo by Matthew Coutts. Annika diving at the Mokohinau-Islands.
As a way to empower the next generation of divers, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) created the NextGen Scholarship, which provides a year of training and other benefits to deserving divers on their quest for excellence.
We are excited to announce that the first-ever NextGen scholarship recipient has been selected. Annika Andresen from New Zealand will be our 2019-2020 NextGen scholarship winner! Annika is 25 years old with a Masters of Architecture, where she studied the role architecture plays on the connection people have with their environment. She has also worked on dive boats, is a PADI open water dive instructor, and currently works for Blake, an environmental trust, as an environmental educator.
InDepth caught up with Annika to learn a bit more about her and how this scholarship will help her achieve her goals.
We got to know you a little bit through your video and application, but we have a couple more questions to get to know you a little bit better and share your story with our community. What influenced you to pursue diving, and how old were you when you started?
I grew up sailing around the east coast of the North Island on a little 9-meter (30-foot) yacht with my family— my parents and two brothers. We were always around or in the water, and my dad let us have a go on his dive gear when we were seven to see what it was like to breathe underwater. We didn’t really go under the water, we were just on the surface, but as we got older we joined him on more of his dives. It wasn’t until my first year of university where I got enough money to do my open water course in 2013, but it feels like I have been diving my whole life.
What attracted you to diving over other water sports?
Just being closer to everything and being fully immersed. If I was snorkelling, there is only so long I could hold my breath, so I really wanted to learn how to dive so I could actually stay submerged and watch the different marine life swimming around and become part of the environment. That’s kind of what started it off. I had a good friend in the Auckland University Underwater Club who was also interested, so we did the course together. After my first year at University I wanted to get a summer job that involved something to do with the ocean. I emailed Kate Malcolm at Dive! Tutukaka, asking if there were any jobs working on the boats as crew. On my trial we saw dolphins almost every day, got to take customers in the water to experience the marine life, and were teaching everyone about the importance of our marine environment. I couldn’t believe this was a real job. I moved up to Tutukaka, where I got to go out to the Poor Knights Islands every day, and on my days off, I was able to gain more diving experience, joining the dive masters with their group. I think it was then when I really fell in love with diving. I was like, “This is what I want to do. This is what I want to fully throw myself into and learn as much as I can.”
How has your connection with the underwater world influenced the rest of your, I guess, so to speak, dry land life?
At the moment, it’s very much influenced… well, I guess the underwater world has always influenced my life. I remember at primary school, every time I was drawing something, it was something to do with the water. My teachers said, “Oh, you’ve got to expand and draw other things,” but that’s all that I wanted to do. In intermediate, we were doing a project about the ocean and I remember sitting down with the teacher and saying, ‘“Instead of just reading about it, why don’t we actually take them out to Goat Island (New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve)?” So somehow, I convinced my teacher and parents to take my whole class to my teacher’s house who had a pool. During one afternoon, we taught them how to snorkel, going through how to put on a mask, and snorkel, and how to be comfortable in the water.
Then the following week, we went up to Goat Island. My dad and I guided my class around the bay, pointing out all the different species while my mom rowed our dinghy (that had a little glass bottom) for the three people that didn’t like being in the water. Everyone was really excited to see the fish. In my architectural degree, all of my designs always included water or a connection to the environment. One of my favorite designs was a marine rehabilitation center sited in the Bay of Islands for different marine species. So I guess everything has always been influenced by the underwater world…for me, it’s my home. I always feel very calm on the water and then diving just ramped everything up a lot more. Now whatever I do seems to be associated with or to revolve around diving or anything to do with water.
Do you participate in any other water sports besides snorkeling and swimming?
Yeah, I love sailing. I do a lot of sailing. Normally every Friday night, I will go down with a group of girls and we do rum racing. So if you win the race, you get a bottle of rum, and then there’s other sailing regattas during the weekend if I’m not diving. If I can’t go diving or sailing, normally the weather is perfect for surfing. My car always has a combination of dive gear, surfboard on top, my wet weather gear, and a towel. I also really like free-diving as well because it’s just very different from scuba-diving, and there are some species I don’t want to scare off with my bubbles.
We saw from your video that you work for Blake. How did you get involved in conservation?
I have always been interested in volunteering for conservation projects and encouraging others to do the same. I was very lucky. In 2016-2017, I was chosen for Blake’s ambassador program where I worked with Antarctica, New Zealand, and the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Through the program, I was able to go to Antarctica and work with the team down there to conserve Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut.
When I finished my thesis last year, BLAKE approached me over the summer and asked me to help kickstart a new project. This has been the pilot year for NZ-VR, where we have a roadshow traveling to different schools in Auckland. We have 60 VR headsets and spent the year teaching four classes a day, ranging from 10-year-olds to 15-year-olds, about our underwater environment. We put a headset on each student showing 360° footage from New Zealand Geographic that is taken all around New Zealand, comparing and contrasting environments from the very pristine northern parts of New Zealand to degraded environments from human impact that are closer to human populations.
By the end of the year, my colleague and I will have taught 20,000 students in the Auckland region. Hopefully, depending on funding for the project, we want to get two more educators and double the amount of headsets to reach twice as many students and further expand into the surrounding regions. It’s a really awesome organization where they were able to just give me the support that I needed to really push the idea of learning through experience. This is really exciting, as this was what my thesis was based around, and I can combine my passion for the underwater world and creative thinking towards conservation.
Wow. What an inspiring job to have.
Yeah, it’s pretty incredible to be able to get students excited about the ocean, to remove that element of fear if they don’t like the water for some students, and show others that don’t get the opportunity to be able to experience what it is like beneath the surface. It gets students to be immersed and learn empathy toward our environment. The other awesome addition to the videos is the natural underwater sounds New Zealand Geographic recorded, so when the students are experiencing these videos, they can hear everything that you would be able to hear underwater.
What attracted you to GUE?
Very good question. It was actually when I had just started scuba diving, I think I had done 20 dives. At the time, I was seeing someone who had done the GUE Tech One course and he said it would be a really good way of refining my skills and gaining a lot more confidence in the water. I had previously met Mel Jeavons and Jamie Obern on the dive boats and was really interested in the diving they were doing.
I did the Fundamentals course with Jamie on a single tank with a wetsuit just because that’s what I was diving in at the time and what I was comfortable with. Over the next two years, I worked on gaining more diving experience and talking to Jamie, and finally, I was like, okay, I’m ready to go on to twins now. I got my tech pass a year after that. I really valued being able to dive and not disturb any of the environment around me, especially while working at the Poor Knights.
It wasn’t until I started working as a divemaster and guiding people around that it really showed the difference. I was very conscious that I didn’t want to destroy the environment that I was showing people. And being able to share that with people, sharing techniques I had learned or explaining certain elements in diving, I realized this gave confidence to my divers as well. I wanted to ensure every diver had a positive experience, and so they could enjoy their dive and fall in love with the ocean just like I have, giving them a reason to protect it.
What are your diving goals now?
To spend as much time in the water as I can. I would love to dive along the side of a huge iceberg in Antarctica, explore the wrecks of Truk Lagoon, or swim alongside schooling hammerheads in the Galapagos. This list could go on forever…
Furthering my diving skills, I’ve always wanted to try cave diving, and I am truly fascinated by the amazing pictures I have seen from cave divers. There are some caves in New Zealand, which is not an easy place to learn to cave dive, but it has always been one of my life goals to see first-hand what this incredible environment is like.
Over the last year, I have been looking into the GUE Tech One course, and this came after a dive on the MV Rena (a container ship that ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef in 2011). Four and a half years later, the exclusion zone was lifted, and I was lucky enough to dive the wreck a couple of days later. The wreck was split in two and the stern section of the Rena starts in 26 m/85 ft, continuing further down the reef face to 70 m/230 ft. I was stuck at 30 m/100 ft, and I was looking down at this amazing container ship, and I was just like, ‘oh, this is why I want to get my Tech One,’ because looking down on the wreck is just not the same, and the wreck, although so close, seemed so far away.
I have always dreamt of taking every single person beneath the surface and showing them some of the amazing things I have been lucky enough to see. So, one of my main personal goals would be to inspire as many people as I can and take them on my journey to share the importance and beauty of our ocean.
How do you feel the GUE scholarship will help you achieve these? As both a diver and a conservationist?
Just meeting everyone, building on my knowledge, and developing my skills as a diver. Gaining a greater understanding of conservation projects, hearing their diving stories, what they’ve learned, and then being able to share these experiences with everyone. That would be awesome. This scholarship is an amazing platform for me to be an ambassador for the protection of our oceans as well as for women in the marine environment and diving.
It’s a great community, that’s for sure. Had you heard of Jarrod Jablonski before he called you to tell you that you were awarded the scholarship?
I had, because I read everyone’s profiles. I was really nervous when I got the phone call. I started my interview talking to Dorota, and then she got up to get someone. I didn’t know what was going on. Jarrod sat down and it took a little bit to register, and when he said his name I went into a bit of a shock and I was like, ‘What? He’s actually talking to me?’ But yes, it was a bit of a stunned moment; that it was actually him that was talking to me online.
Annika will be joining GUE for their 2019 Conference in Florida from November 9-11th. If you are interested in attending the conference, registration closes on November 4th.
Amanda White is the editor for InDepth, and Global Underwater Explorers Content and Brand manager. Her main passion in life is protecting the environment; whether that means working to minimize her own footprint or working on a broader scale to protect wildlife, the oceans, and other bodies of water. She received her GUE Recreational Level 1 certificate in November 2016 and has been lucky enough to join GUE and Project Baseline projects. Amanda holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis on strategic communications and a minor in creative writing from the University of Nevada, Reno.
A Journey Into the Unknown
Sailor, diver, and professional software implementation consultant turned adventure blogger Michael Chahley shares his quest to discover the unknowns of our world by stepping out of his comfort zone. Are you ready to take the plunge?
By Michael Chahley
The engine roars to life, launching me out of a deep slumber and into reality. “That’s not good,” I think out loud. Rocking in my bunk inside the sailboat, I realize the wind is still driving us against the ocean swell. We do not need to be using the engine right now, so why is it on? Bracing myself, I climb into the cockpit as Paul, the captain, swings us over hard to starboard while staring wide-eyed ahead into the darkness. We are on a collision course with an Indonesian fishing boat shrouded in darkness, and it’s close enough to violate the ceiling of a safety stop. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I count a handful of men staring back at us as they also take evasive action. One of them is standing at the railing brushing his teeth while we run parallel alongside one another for a moment.
Luckily for us we didn’t collide. I went back to sleep with another adventure to share. If you were to meet me today, working a full-time job in Canada alongside Lake Ontario as it freezes, it would not be obvious I spent two of the past four years traveling. Balancing a life of adventure with one of responsibility, I feel fortunate to have explored some very remote places in our world–both above and below the water. But before I was able to explore the Pacific Ocean, I first had to navigate a personal path of conflicting identities in order to find the confidence to jump into the unknown.
For my entire life, I have been more comfortable in the water than on land. My childhood memories consist of watching my parents dive under the water for hours at a time and swim in the currents of the Thousand Islands in the Great Lakes region of North America. I followed the predictable path of our society. I worked hard, achieved an engineering degree, and secured a job. Fortunately, I was able to continue exploring the outdoors with this busy life. Long weekends were spent diving in the Great Lakes or camping in the back-country. I was comfortable enough; however, there was no real satisfaction in my life. As the years ticked by, the gap between my reality and dream world grew. Something had to change, but I did not know where to find the catalyst.
Like any other armchair traveler, I idolized the explorers from the Age of Discovery. Adventure books weighed down my bookshelf while travel documentaries glowed on the TV screen in my room at night. I understood what made me happy, but I was unsure of what I stood for and believed in. I was living a life in conflict with the trajectory I wanted to be on, but I had no idea of how to become an ‘explorer’ who lived a life in pursuit of the unknown. While commuting to work each day in a crowded subway, I daydreamed of sailing the oceans and exploring the underwater world. As I grew increasingly more frustrated, one day I unloaded my concerns on a friend. They had the nerve to say I was ‘living in a dream world’ and needed to focus more on my real life. This hurt to hear at first, but then it dawned on me! If dreaming was a part of my life, then why couldn’t I make it a reality, too? This was the catalyst I needed.
I finally understood that even though others might see my dreams as frivolous, it was okay for me to follow a path that was meaningful for me. Like a weight lifted from my shoulders, I discovered it was okay to be uncomfortable with the status quo. With this in mind, I quit my job, packed a bag, and with no concrete plans, bought a one-way ticket to go halfway around the world.
One-Way Ticket To Ride
I found myself flying to the Marshall Islands with a one-way ticket to meet someone I had only communicated with over email. The customs officer did not find it amusing, but after some tactful negotiation, I was let into the country and even offered a free ride to the marina. It was 2016, and I was on my way to meet Tom, the captain of a 53-foot, steel-hull ketch named Karaka. Tom invited me to join his crew and help them sail across the Pacific. Even though blue-water sailing was new to me, for him it was a lifestyle. He was nearing the end of a 12-year circumnavigation after saving Karaka from a scrapyard in Hong Kong. Along the way, he would have crew join him as a co-operative, which is how I ended up spending eight months on his boat exploring the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea.
When not visiting uninhabited atolls, the outer communities we visited were so isolated that we were asked to help out by delivering fuel, cooking oil, and mail. During this trip, our daily routine consisted of free diving on pristine coral reefs, gathering coconuts, and sharing meals with some of the friendliest people in the world. From spearfishing with the local fishermen, exploring the shipwrecks and ruins of World War II, and partaking in long walks on the beach or up a volcano, it was a new adventure every day. As a shipwreck enthusiast, I am incredibly grateful to have had an opportunity to free dive to within sight of the HIJMS Nagato in the lagoon of Bikini Atoll and to dive on Japanese Zeros in waters of Rabaul. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself exploring these regions of the world; reality had transcended my childhood fantasies.
Just like diving is for many of us, once I started traveling, the passion grew and is now a core part of my identity. Flash-forward to earlier this year, and I am back in the capital of Papua New Guinea helping Paul and his partner repair their 34-foot sloop named Amanda-Trabanthea for a journey out of the country and into Indonesia. Adventurers themselves, they had just returned to their boat after sailing through the Northwest Passage. Over three months we managed to visit some of the most hospitable and isolated regions of Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. I was lucky enough to go diving in Port Moresby, the Banda Islands, Wakatobi, Komodo, Lombok, and Bali. By the time we survived the near-collision with a fishing boat, I had come to expect the unexpected and cherish the exciting moments in life.
Explore The Unknown
Diving and sailing share a lot of similarities. Both are perfect for getting off the well-beaten track to explore places of our world few have ever seen. We must be confident in our abilities and have the appropriate training to safely handle the unexpected. A strong technical understanding of the physics and equipment required to operate safely is very important. Meticulous planning is essential for completing long passages and technical dives. But most importantly, it is the adventure from exploring new places that makes it so fun and gives us reasons to continue doing this. I strongly believe that communities such as GUE play a pivotal role in society by encouraging and promoting exploration within the individual. With time, I will combine my passion for both diving and sailing to help discover some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our world. If you have never sailed before, I highly recommend it.
I am back in Toronto where this journey began. I’m working full-time; however, this time with a much more solid understanding of myself and as well as a greater appreciation of the world we share. Only by stepping outside of my comfort zone to explore our world I was able to overcome the uncertainty that kept me from living an authentic life. Author Dale Dauten put it succinctly, “Success is an act of exploration. That means the first thing you have to find is the unknown. Learning is searching; anything else is just waiting.’’
During my travels, I realized that we cannot let others define us. We must reach beyond personal boundaries, take a risk, and venture into the unknown. In doing so, we become explorers in our own reality, which is the only reality that matters. So, rather than daydream about future adventures, we need to believe we can incorporate those dreams into our lives. All we have to do is to dare to take that first step into the unknown.
Michael Chahley is a professional software implementation consultant and an industrial engineering graduate from the University of Toronto. A finalist for GUE’s 2019 NextGEN Scholarship, he is a passionate diver, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, and an experienced traveller. Founder of the online blog Nothing Unknown.com, Michael is on a quest to discover the unknowns of our world and share them with you. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and can be reached at @NUDiscover on social media or his email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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