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by Victoria Brown
Header Photo by Leo Grower, Ocean Leisure
The sound of escaping air whooshing through purge valves tears through me. I consider the impending hours I will be standing in front of the compressor, filling the cylinders as my group of divers is using their air supply as ammunition stocks for their new air guns. Sorry, I mean regulators.
I am dressed in my wetsuit, with my diving instructor hat on, loudly addressing the rowdy crowd of teenage boys, attempting to gain silence and get their attention. Futile, as you can imagine. In a bid to appear in control, I try again in a firmer voice, this time individually name checking each member of the group, none of whom are paying attention to me over the buzz of activity. I walk around the buddy pairs conducting final checks, repeating the pre-dive safety mnemonic to the group (that seems to slip their minds from week to week), ensuring the strict sequences are executed, sorting tangled hoses, and tightening the cam bands of BCDs worn by the next generation of divers.
The crowd of excited boys yells gas pressures to the instructor on surface support duty, and they waddle carefully in their fins toward the edge of the pool to get ready to make their giant stride entrances. This is Kid’s Club, and it is more than fun. Once I’m happy, I step into the water and all eyes are on me. I mutter the weekly joke about how cold it is in the 28°C/82°F pool and go on to instruct the divers to enter the water one by one.
In the next moment we are sinking into the magnificent azure of a hidden world in search of adventure, treasure, and marine life that we discussed just an hour ago during the dive briefing. In reality, the azure comes from the colored tiles that are creating the turquoise hue, outlined by darker navy blue bordering the lanes along the 25 m/82 ft length of the pool. The only marine life are the clumps of hair, rouge plasters and lost sparkly earrings missing their pair, glinting in the bright glow of the strip lights in the roof.
Ages 13-18, and amongst their school peers, the kids are concerned with looking cool and in control during their brave pursuit of the underwater world. The group is competitive and this helps them to up their game and achieve mastery in their skills. Any slight feelings of apprehension are put aside as they try to out hover each other in sweet trim and give the OK sign every few moments to their buddy.
Colour Me Child Diver
My first experience diving with children was when I began diving. As the youngest, keenest, and last member of the Brown family divers to experience diving, my family members were my trusted companions. In hindsight, I learnt the importance of looking after other divers from them. Of course, as a new diver I erred on the wild side with little regard for or understanding of safe diving practices. I would laugh until my regulator fell out and use my air up trying to gain some sort of semblance of neutral buoyancy as I darted around discovering new species of fish and corals. I was never left alone to my own devices. They kept me safe and away from danger, they always had my back (and my SPG in view), and they never constrained my exploration through underwater play.
As I edged out of my teens and into my 20s, I was teaching recreational courses every week. My first diving job was at a dive centre in London that ran a whole variety of kid friendly diving experiences, from “bubblemaker” parties to junior open water courses, via the PADI Seal Team. I immediately began instructing the kid’s courses, and I adored it. As a young female instructor working in a busy London dive center, I was relieved to have an audience that never questioned the level of experience I had in comparison to my age.
Teaching groups of kids brought a whole world of imagination and joy to diving that reminded me of my early days learning to dive. I felt a great sense of achievement every time I had the opportunity to lead a diver underwater for the first time and reveal the secrets of the deep. This feeling was heightened by the great enthusiasm of youth.
Hogwarts On Helium?
Nowadays, I run a scuba club at a south London boys’ school. It is magical. The school is mega, it feels like Hogwarts, and is set in stunning grounds. The facilities are excellent too, a large heated pool, hot showers and free cups of tea in the staffroom.
Each child has a unique personality, and it is this powerful individualism of each of my students that defines our communication in lessons. There are the loudest characters who want to catch me out and interrogate me about non-diving related issues in front of their buddies. Then there are the divers who ask a thousand questions, the quiet ones who listen, and the ones that do not! From the less sporty ones who persist in mastery of the skills we conduct in training to the ones who appear to already be born to dive, they all come together to share this extreme experience.
Despite the liveliness of some groups, as the time nears for open water qualifying dives the groups tend to knuckle down as their thoughts turn toward cold water, and they consider the severity of possible situations if things go wrong. Concentration and attention are increased tenfold during the final confined water training sessions. The divers are all there to learn now, their natural competitiveness subsides, and the team begins to work together.
Occasionally diving instructors are not keen on teaching children, for they are uninterested in what is perceived as ‘babysitting’. I find I have endless patience for the wee diving ones and find their spirit enchanting. Kids are not for the faint hearted. It is not the same as teaching adults, although I can recall a few occasions that maturity might be confused with age.
It is important to consider that they are not just smaller adults. They have shorter attention spans, and more quizzical questions arise; tactical explanations are a necessity if I want to successfully guide kids into diving. I learn so much from interacting and diving with the kids and appreciate their vivid originality. I also enjoy the challenges posed by some wonderful questions in class that spark awesome discussions.
Inspiring the NextGen
Sometimes teaching theory can be interrupted by the excitement of getting in the water, but it can also be more rewarding than the diving itself. Delivering a lesson in a firm, precise, and comprehensive manner can help. So can shorter, fun bursts that include a clear explanation of value, repetition where possible, and a lot of patience. I have a cool story to drop into at every moment, so when daydreams replace concentration, and students drift out of the classroom, sharing a gripping tale of an underwater adventure that I have had certainly grabs their attention
And another thing: when I hit waterside, ensuring that the kids have well-fitted equipment is essential. Smaller cylinders, kid-sized BCDs, well-fitted masks and smaller mouth pieces on regulator second stages and snorkels are critical.
One thing you learn when you spend time with children outside the water is anything that can happen, will happen. Introduce water, depth and equipment to the mix and it really gets exciting. There is not a moment you can safely take your eyes off the young students. You need eyes everywhere. Topside rules are check, check, and check again.
To me this is not a chore, it is part of the fun. The intense excitement is infectious, and when a group goes underwater to take their first breaths, it feels great watching the wonderment behind their eyes. I love asking the kids about how they feel and what it was like, and what they thought about.
Being a role model for my groups is incredibly important. I want to demonstrate how to be safe, have fun, and share experiences and adventures with their friends. Enabling the children of today to take the reins of tomorrow is going to change the future.
Imagine the possibilities as future underwater explorers and ocean advocates that learnt under your instruction go on to discover places where no one has ever dived before, or reverse the effects of climate change, or make more divers to protect our water sources.
Victoria Brown is a PADI Diving Instructor, Commercial Diver-Surface Supplied, and Technical Diver. Based in London, UK, she works as a freelance Content Creator for Suunto, Deeperblue.com, and Midlands Diving Chamber.
Resurrecting a Ghost: The Launch of Ghost Diving USA
By Katie McWilliams. Photos courtesy of Ghost Diving USA unless noted. Header image by Jim Babor
Ghost Diving, formerly Ghost Fishing, has officially arrived in the United States. Naming Southern California as home for the United States chapter is not an expansion to a new territory; instead, it is a warm welcome home after a long journey.
Ghost Fishing first arrived in Southern California in the mid 2000s spearheaded by Karim and Heather Hamza. Their team, a group of volunteer technical divers, set out to improve the health and viability of the Southern California waters. The team started with the Infidel, a sunken squid fishing vessel near Catalina Island in 45 m/150 ft. They diligently worked to clean the Infidel which took almost two years. This victory was huge for their effort. Sadly, due to lack of funding, they were unable to continue other projects. Despite this hardship and some time away from their pursuit of the ghosts, Karim and Heather are back and more motivated than ever.
Heather’s passion is deeply rooted in her mission to advocate for animals. This passion has helped her to push through and focus on advocating for the animals that are often unseen. The marine life that goes undetected but is ever threatened in our oceans. These are the animals Heather makes very certain to see. Her passion and love for them is palpable; it radiates from her like the warmth of a sunny day. It beckons you to join her cause. This is what keeps the fire alive in her heart for Ghost Diving. She knows that she can turn the collection of nets and her experiences into educational opportunities. Heather’s aspirations for Ghost Diving USA include continuing to educate others regarding the threat of abandoned and discarded fishing gear, seeking legislative solutions to the problem, and ultimately, building an informed and empowered community that takes care of our oceans.
Karim thrives in situations that require precision and accuracy. He explains that for him, this new era of Ghost Diving is providing a fresh opportunity to build a community of elite divers that share a passion for and commitment to a great cause. He has the knowledge and experience to help train and mentor divers along their path to becoming ghost divers and intends to give all he can to the process. He wants to bring to fruition teams of divers who trust not only each other but also the process, as well as high training standards and passion for the cause. As Karim described all the things that a ghost diver needs to be, one of the original team members immediately sprang to mind, Jim Babor.
Jim recounted the arduous process that is becoming a ghost diver and being active with projects. He started with the project as a safety diver. The deep team would come up from the dive to the nets, and Jim would ascend with them through their scheduled decompression. He then progressed into his technical training and began photographing and documenting the work the divers were doing. Jim shared something that truly captures the essence of the passion needed to be a ghost diver. When asked about some of his most memorable incidents, he recounted the amazing experience of rescuing live animals by cutting them out of nets they were trapped in.. When asked what it felt like to cut an animal out of the net and watch it swim away, Jim was simply at a loss for words. We spoke on the phone and despite Jim’s reflective pause as he gathered his thoughts, it was apparent that the experience resonates with him on a deep level rooted in compassion. For Jim, the Ghost Diving USA launch brings his commitment and journey as a ghost diver full circle.
Helping to lead Ghost Diving USA into the future is scientific coordinator Norbert Lee, Scuba instructor, marine biologist, and active technical diver. To speak to Norbert is to feel his can-do attitude and realize his aspirations are rooted in protecting and fostering the growth of the underwater world while educating the community about ocean conservation. More importantly, his strong sense of commitment to the team effort shines through everything. In asking Norbert about his journey to becoming the US chapter coordinator, he cited the significance of the mentorship he has and continues to receive. This mentorship comes from a variety of sources including Pascal van Erp, the Hamzas and Jim Babor.
Norbert Lee’s goal is to collect data about the environmental impact of ghost nets and how their removal impacts the health and growth of a given area. By collecting this data, he is confident he can help to educate the community about the true impact of abandoned fishing gear. He does not want to stop with nets. He wants to help recover lobster pots and other fishing apparatus that continue to catch fish after being left behind. Through educating the community, he does not want to villainize or chastise commercial fishing but rather to build working, symbiotic relationships with fishermen. By working together, Norbert hopes to have the nets removed before they do irreversible damage.
The Founding of Ghost Diving
Pascal van Erp has a commanding grasp on the issue of abandoned fishing gear. As the founder of Ghost Diving. Pascal’s passion has built a formidable and forward-thinking movement. Speaking to Pascal is a unique experience. He exudes a quiet confidence that only time and experience can build. In researching his work to prepare for his visit and subsequent presentations, it became quite apparent that Pascal is consistent in his message. The message is that Ghost Diving breathes new life into abandoned nets that can be recycled or upcycled. To reuse and upcycle the nets means to actively contribute to the health of the planet for today and more importantly, future generations.
Next, Pascal emphasizes Ghost Diving is dangerous. He explains that the dangers are not always apparent. Instead, they lurk in the shadows cast by ghost nets. Team dynamics are not only critical but a matter of life and death. Pascal frequently mentions the significance of trust. The ability to trust teammates to maintain composure in the face of adversity. Trusting that if something goes wrong, they can and will continue to problem solve. Trusting that they can and will save your life. The team must always perform at the highest levels. It is critical that the dive is executed according to plan and that the procedure is applied with absolute fidelity. The nets do not discriminate between human life and marine life. They are not forgiving. A diver can meet an untimely fate in the grasp of a ghost net.
Ghost Diving USA provides a unique and exciting opportunity by planting its roots here. With support from Zen Dive Co., ghost divers will have access to equipment, standard gasses and service that will meet all their needs while ensuring the quality and reliability of these resources. While funding issues had previously plagued Ghost Fishing, the Ghost Diving partnership with Healthy Seas along with other community sponsors helps to ensure the security of the critical funding that makes these projects possible.
Launching Ghost Diving USA
Zen Dive Co. hosted a launch event for Ghost Diving USA on Thursday, April 28. The energy in the building was electric. Everyone was thrilled to network, build community, and work towards supporting Ghost Diving USA in any possible way. Karim opened the evening by describing the net diving mission that the ghost divers had gone on earlier in the day. He explained in detail that the Moody, a Wickes class destroyer, sits at approximately 45m/150 ft. Conditions at sea were challenging. Spring is a rough season in Southern California. Variable winds cause large swells, and upwellings bring up life giving nutrients. Unfortunately, both phenomena significantly reduce visibility. This dive was no exception. Karim described a thick green cloud in the shallower depths cutting visibility to 4.5–6 m/15–20 ft. This green cloud blocked out all ambient light as the ghost divers descended, and then cutting the nets only made visibility worse. Essentially, there was no ambient light, and visibility quickly became next to zero. The ghost divers were forced to rely upon the light they brought with them. Despite the challenges, the net clean-up was successful, but the work is far from done. The ghost divers will have to return to remove more net.
Pascal made a brief presentation about the problem of ghost nets. It was incredible to experience a room full of people feeling compelled to act, and everyone looking for the way they could best support the mission. Veronika Mikos of Healthy Seas helped to drive the point home when she explained that through partnerships with organizations such as Bracenet and Aquafil, the recycling and upcycling of nets can help to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, as the ability to recycle nets and the products made from nets grows, they become sustainable and renewable. The yarn made from the nets can be processed infinitely and never loses quality.
The most precious resource to any of these projects is manpower. Volunteers. People willing to train hard, think of the many versus the one and ultimately focus on safety. A ghost diver is a technical diver that has successfully completed a series of training workshops that help to best prepare them for what they will experience on a net retrieval dive. The workshops also serve to build team cohesion. Pascal and Karim both explain that the need to work with technical divers is not to be exclusionary. Ghost divers need to be able to handle any situation that may arise at any moment. Technical divers are trained to do exactly that.
For recreational divers and non-divers alike, there is a place for everyone. Ghost divers cannot do what they do without support. Jim shared with me that his son, middle-school-aged at the time, used to volunteer as surface support. He and a friend would help to bring nets onto the boat and then search through them meticulously for any trapped marine life that could be released back into the ocean. Not only did his son help to raise awareness through multiple award-winning science projects, but he also became a diver crediting his experience helping with ghost nets. The Hamzas and Norbert hope to grow Ghost Diving USA to include recreational limit projects that allow for the training and participation of recreational divers.
Ghost Diving USA is hitting the ground running. If you are looking for a way to get involved, a great place to start is to follow them on their social media pages. They are on Facebook and Instagram as Ghost Diving USA or @GhostDivingUSA. If you would like to inquire about the application process, you can reach the USA chapter via email at email@example.com.
You can also act right now. Learn about what abandoned fishing gear does to our oceans and talk to others about it. Through raising awareness, you can help remind people that while the surface of the ocean is beautiful, it is what is below the surface that desperately needs our help.
|Ghost Diving International:||https://ghostdiving.org|
|Alert Diver:||Ghost Fishing by Michael Menduno. The story of Heather Hamza and her team (2014).|
Katie McWilliams is an avid diver, spending every spare moment she can in the water. Currently completing her divemaster and training for her technical pass, she wants to not only further her education and ability to explore the ocean but help with the training of divers. Specifically, Katie wants to focus on spreading awareness of how we can help the health and conservation of the oceans and marine life. Outside of diving, Katie works in moderate/severe special education. She enjoys reading, exercise, off-roading, camping and spending time with her husband, family and friends.