TORTOLA — Kayla Smith is accustomed to going seining fish with her father Garry, but on Thursday morning, the 13-year-old Seventh-day Adventist student had a totally different experience — scuba diving for the first time.
Smith was among eight Youth Empowerment Project attendees making the trip to Cooper Island, first for a lesson, then a 24-foot, 43-minute dive off Cromus Reef.
“This is different to going to seine because there, you’re on top of the water but with scuba diving, you’re underneath the water,” Smith said. “It was fun. We got to see a lot of different fish and coral reefs.”
Youth Empowerment Project Director Stacy Mather said the group began working on an aquatics and marine program with children in 2020, and it has changed into different types of programs and opportunities. He said the organization has been working closely with sponsorship from Unite BVI and Sail Caribbean Divers and last year conducted a Professional Association of Divers program as a basic introductory activity for children 10 years and older to adults.
“It gives you the opportunity to get in the water, learn to use the gear, put it on, then take a shore dive,” he said. “And then, basically, you’re put on the boat, carried out to about 24 feet of water, given an opportunity to see a coral reef and see what’s going on.”
He praised the program and what it means to students.
“It also gives children an opportunity to see what is under the water, the fish, the marine life they’d want to see. They’re up close and personal. They’re down there. They’re breathing out of a tank and they’re able to see a fish right in front of their face,” he said.
That exposure, Mather said, gives them a mindset of what’s needed to be protected in our Caribbean waters and the BVI. It also gives them a better appreciation for preservation and conservation.
“It is a phenomenal opportunity because it’s sponsored,” Mather noted. “It’s supported and we hope that these experiences would be a springboard for children to want to get more involved in the blue economy, in careers that are involved in the marine industry and for children who grow up to be more vocal about protecting of our most wonderful national resources.”
Sail Caribbean Divers instructor Charlotte Hounsome said it was a wonderful experience because all the students were enthusiastic and excited and they wanted to learn.
“They were listening, getting involved, so it was wonderful to take them underwater and show them things maybe they have never seen before,” said Hounsome, who has been an instructor for eight years and has worked in other areas of the world. “It’s my passion to take young people under the water. After they’re done, they usually say ‘wow. This was amazing. It’s incredible.’ To be like a fish under water — to be weightless — is awesome. Today, they saw snapper, cromus, porcupine fish and a stingray was there in the distance and of course the coral as well. It was very beautiful.”
For Roman Nibbs, it was a really great experience.
“It felt surreal. Like I was one of the fish,” the 13-year-old Elmore Stoutt Jr. High student said. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I did it for the adventure, the experience.”
Maliakh Bowen, 11, of Francis Lettsome Primary School, said it was fun.
“It was beautiful. The corals were nice and I had fun,” she said. “For someone who has never done this, it’s a fun experience that they should come and try.”
Tiffany Herbert, 10, of Francis Lettsome School, said she has never done anything like it before.
“It was fun and I appreciate coming here,” she said.
Chelsea Jones, a 12-year-old-student at Enis Adams School, said she learned the various signs used in scuba diving and learnt how to fix her snorkel.
“I’ve done snorkeling before, but it’s nothing like scuba diving,” she said.
Sophia Peppard, another Sail Caribbean Divers instructor, said it was wonderful seeing children learning something new and getting out of their comfort zone and seeing their faces light up after going underwater for the first time.
“It’s such a wonderful opportunity to see something right off the back of their doorstep and experience it in a new way,” she said. “They said they enjoyed it so much, even the smallest fish made them excited. Some have done snorkeling and this a progressing them towards learning more and more.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism