PADI Staff Complete a Dive Against Debris Event in Koh Tao, Thailand

Written by PADI Territory Director, Tim Hunt.

Project AWARE - Dive Against Debris - PADI Staff - Drew Richardson - Koh Tao - Thailand

By now you have heard about PADI’s Four Pillars of Change, one of which includes Ocean Health. On March 27th words and ethos were put into action in Koh TaoThailand where multiple PADI dive operators joined forces to conduct a Project AWARE Dive Against Debris event on their Adopted Dive Sites. This call to action is not an irregular experience in Koh Tao but this time PADI President & CEO Drew Richardson, PADI Chief Marketing Officer Kristin Valette-Wirth, PADI Vice President Danny Dwyer, PADI Territory Director Tim Hunt, PADI Regional Manager Neil Richards and PADI Regional Training Consultant Guy Corsellis, got to experience it firsthand. 

Project AWARE - Dive Against Debris - PADI Staff - Drew Richardson - Koh Tao - Thailand

Through combined efforts, almost 100 kg/220 lb of debris was removed from the ocean floor and reported back to Project AWARE. This adds to the current tally of more than 6,000 kg/13,227 lb and 40,000 items of rubbish removed from the surrounding waters of Koh Tao since the program started in 2011. Even though the island promotes some outstanding environmentally minded campaigns such as ‘no plastic bags at 7-11’ and ‘say no plastic straws’, unfortunately the item that was most reported in the in the past 300+ Dives Against Debris Surveys from Koh Tao was plastic bottles.

PADI President & CEO Drew Richardson said “The PADI Operators and Divers on Koh Tao are exemplary in making a difference in the face of the numerous threats to our seas.  Globe-wide problems can seem overwhelming, but these divers showed that we can and do make a difference on a local level. They banded together as citizen scientists to adopt and steward the waters surrounding Koh Tao, inspiring divers and future dive leaders to care and take action. The power of one becomes a force multiplier when millions of divers across the planet are inspired to make a difference in this way. It was an honor to participate in Dive against Debris with the Koh Tao diving community and inspiring to see the young divers and instructors express true and profound care and take action for the ocean on that day.”  

Project AWARE - Dive Against Debris - PADI Staff - Drew Richardson - Koh Tao - Thailand

Some interesting facts from Project AWARE:

  • Globally more than 1 million items of debris have been removed from the ocean and reported.
  • Almost 50,000 scuba divers have participated in Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris program.
  • Sadly over 5,500 entangled or dead animals were reported.
  • 64% of waste reported has been plastic.
  • 25% of data collected in Koh Tao has come from Adopted Dive Sites – have you adopted yours?

As part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Project AWARE has pledged that they will have removed and report the next million items of marine debris from the ocean by 2020 #NextMillion2020. Scuba divers will inherently pick up marine debris they see (as it comes instinctively to most) however recording and reporting each collection is vital to change policies locally, nationally and globally. So in the future please make every dive, a survey dive!

Thanks again to all the dedicated PADI Dive Shops for hosting this event including; Master DiversAssava Dive ResortSairee Cottage DivingDavy Jones LockerBuddha View Dive ResortBans Diving Resort and Crystal Dive!

Make a Life

Diver - Topside - Boat Diver

How did you get into diving? Or more specifically, who got you into diving? You’re a diver either because someone took you by the hand and led you to an instructor, or you found an instructor who nurtured your interest. Maybe it was a bit of both or someone else helped you along, but no matter how you slice it, we’re all divers because someone shared diving with us. They opened the door, encouraged us and made us feel welcome. Even if we were already interested thanks to the internet, television, cinema or whatever, to some to extent (usually to a large one) diving was (and is) a gift.

Scuba Divers - Underwater - Descent Line

IMO, it’s a gift we should share. American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” I added the emphasis because this absolutely describes diving. As I’ve said here before, diving reshapes lives, alters perspectives and changes attitudes. Thanks to this, some of us become teachers who help shape a rising generation that will preserve the seas. Others of us combat climate change and restore coral damage. Through diving we experience healing, and last year, the world watched divers spearhead a massive effort to save 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. Longfellow was right; when we give diving by inviting others into our ranks, we are often giving far more than we imagine.

And, unlike many things today, diving is uncontroversial. People are hungry for enlightening experiences, new friendships and ways to contribute meaningfully. Diving is a gift because it’s not just an invitation into a wonderous world that feeds this hunger, but because it’s inclusive, not divisive. We become divers without swinging our political outlook, joining a cult or endorsing a new world order. It brings us together regardless of differences, which makes sharing diving so easy I’m astounded when divers don’t do it. But, as Lemony Snicket says in the children’s book Shouldn’t You Be In School?, “Hungry people should be fed. It takes some people a long time to figure this out.”

Wreck Diver - PADI Wreck Diver - Underwater

We don’t need to figure this out; we just need to make the effort to do it. When we wax eloquent about our dives at the water cooler, post underwater images on social media, update others on the latest AWARE event, etc., all we have to do is put it out there: “You’ll love it – come meet my instructor.” “Check out this link. Awesome underwater shots.” “How ’bout lunch? We can drop by my dive shop after.” If you’re already an instructor, it’s even easier: “What are you doing (whenever)? You can try it (or get started).” You get the idea.

English stateman Winston Churchill famously said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Or lives. Make a point of giving diving to others.

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

Share Your Vision

Scuba Diver - Underwater - School of Fish

It’s estimated that every two minutes, humanity takes more pictures than were taken in all of the 1800s. As of 2018, they say we shoot at least 1 trillion images annually – 2.7 billion daily or 1.9 million every minute, posting about 300 million daily.

As amazing as these numbers are, what I find more amazing is that just as these words found you amid the approximately 9-quadrillion-plus words humanity uses daily, the images you and I take as divers do not get lost amid the trillions of others taken. In fact, they are more visible than in the past.

This is because while image volume is skyrocketing, how we use imagery is expanding. Not that long ago, the average person shared crude (by modern standards) snaps as prints or a slideshow with a few friends, and relived memories now and again by flipping through them. Reaching more than a handful of people with stills or video was almost exclusively the domain of serious enthusiasts and professionals.

Scuba Diver Selfie - Women in Diving - Underwater Selfie

But not anymore. Today we use mobile devices to capture about 90% of images, and imaging has grown into part of everyone’s communication. We all reach thousands-plus on social media. We can post in (or almost in) real time whenever we want, and our images transcend “pictures” because they’re messages sent to people with whom we have personal ties – that’s what gets your images (and words) through the staggering numbers to get seen, and it doesn’t end there. On the receiving end, your friends see them almost immediately and when they’re interesting and/or compelling, they broaden who you reach by reposting to others with whom they have personal ties. So, our imagery reaches more people, and it is more powerful because it is a universal communication that conveys our experiences, visions and perspectives across national borders and language barriers.

This is especially true for us divers. Thanks to its extraordinary ability to emotionally connect with the human experience of going into inner space, photography has always been close to the heart and soul of diving (the first underwater photos actually predate scuba). Today, divers easily snap images with color, sharpness and quality that the pros agonized to get in the 1960s and 70s. Applying these modern technologies to high end cameras and computer post-processing, today’s serious underwater shooters produce stills and video that were unimaginable, unimaginably difficult or even impossible two decades ago.

Crab - Underwater - Coral

All this means that whether you’re passionate about serious imagery, or just snapping casual shots (and we need both), your images have power. They can influence. You can use them to communicate with others about the oceans and underwater world at a time in history when it matters most.

Stills and video of coral, kelp forests and reef-wrecks show that the underwater world is beautiful, worth experiencing and worth saving – we need these, but our messages must be wider. Ugly, but important, shots of dead/broken coral, adrift plastic, a litter-strewn beach or a sea lion drowned in a ghost net remind people that we have some urgent, serious problems that threaten life on Earth. Divers in an AWARE underwater clean up, restoring coral and staging a save-the-sharks outreach show that divers care and are doing something about these problems. Before-during-after dive moments with buddies, video of an Advanced Open Water Diver student triumphantly mastering navigation, and shots of a physically challenged person, an elderly person and a youngster diving together show that diving forges friendships, teaches us about ourselves, and embraces everyone.

PADI Go Pro Evolution Contest - Underwater Contest - Underwater Photography - Shark Diving

It’s often said that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Whether it’s your mobile device, a mask-mounted GoPro or a pro-quality camera, as a diver your posted images can be worth more than that. The right image may be worth a thousand fewer kilos of plastic contaminating the seas. A thousand more sharks still alive. A thousand more divers shoulder-to-shoulder with us as the seas’ ambassadors and a force for good.

So please, shoot, post and share. The world needs to see what you and I see.

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

Education is Essential

PADI - Out of water - Laughing - Beach

Historian Daniel Boorstin once said, “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know,” and that applies to the threats to our oceans and global environment. The threats are not always obvious. Before you protest that they are, let me put it this way. I agree that plastic debris are a major threat, but how can we educate our communities that this is the case? Many people on this planet may not have seen the plastic pollution in the world that we have. Maybe a littered beach, but how do folks learn that it’s a global, not local, problem? It is clear from data-driven temperature and climate graphs that average global temperatures are rising, but how do we help our communities accept that this is an urgent, very real problem – that the upward temperature change rate is unprecedented and has continued steadily since we’ve started measuring it? Similarly, we know that recycling helps, and dumping motor oil on the street hurts, but how do we know?

The reality is that it is difficult to see global problems and solutions alone because they’re too big. We make them visible together, communicating and consolidating what we learn locally into the worldwide mosaic that shows us what’s going on globally. It’s how we know the problems, their magnitude and what works or should work to solve them. The scale of global threats means that education isn’t merely important, but essential in bringing about the social changes needed to restore and protect the environment. Unless we’re taught, most of us can’t know about them, much less our roles in solving them.

Dive Against Debris - Underwater Clean Up - Clean Up - Trash in Ocean

Thankfully, education is happening and it works. In a previous blog, I highlighted PADI Pros who educate youngsters about threats to the seas and teach rising generations to prioritize ocean health – after all, saving the seas is really saving us. And, studies find that teaching conservation can start effectively establishing these essential values as young as age four.

In 2015, the Global Education Monitoring report published by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) found that “improving knowledge, instilling values, fostering beliefs and shifting attitudes, education has considerable power to help individual reconsider environmentally harmful lifestyles and behavior.” Educating across age ranges is particularly important amid cultures that have not traditionally needed to worry about the environment, but fortunately, recognizing that today we all have to worry about it, a growing number of countries require environmental education, and it’s working. Among them, India has environmental education programs targeted for learners from preschool through adult. It’s estimated that since 2003, in some form or other, these programs have reached 300 million students. The results have been varied and mixed, but generally good and trending positive, these programs are shaping attitudes about individual behaviors, choices and sustainability.

Admittedly, some have questioned the ability to reshape values past adolescence, but a 2017 study in People’s Republic of China studied the effect of environmental education on 287 older (college age) students at Minzu University, Beijing, and found “notable positive effects on environmental attitude.” Beyond this study, China has demonstrated the difference education can make when it supports, and is supported by, government efforts and policy. Formerly the number one consumer of shark fin soup (shark fin soup accounts for about 73 million sharks killed annually), a Wild Aid report says that since 2011 consumption has fallen 80 percent in China.

Shark Underwater - Shark - Ocean - Bull Shark

According to the report, declines in public shark fin demand in China resulted from awareness campaigns (education) coupled with the government’s ban on it for official functions and general discouragement of consuming shark fin. Retired pro basketball player Yao Ming is particularly credited with helping through a highly publicized public education outreach in his home country. Apparently, many people living in China didn’t even know what shark fin soup is (the translated name is “fish-wing-soup”), but now surveys show that more than 90 percent support banning it. Although this is good news for sharks, the Wild Aid report also shows that shark fin consumption is still high and increasing in other countries. Why? As many as half of the consumers/potential consumers are unaware that shark consumption is threatening the animals and poses health hazards. The fix? China shows that education – similar campaigns in these countries – would likely be a great start.

This highlights a crucial point: We’re not all scuba instructors, college professors nor school teachers, but we are all educators. Whether it’s a dinner conversation with friends or gently correcting misconceptions in social media, it’s our responsibility as the oceans’ ambassadors to inform and influence others to see and understand the problems, and how we can make better choices to keep Earth sustainable.

Don’t underestimate your influence in doing this – as a diver, you’ve seen the underwater world’s wonder and fragility, and likely some of the damage, first-hand. What you can teach is compelling, and passes the sustainability imperative to our rising generation of educators. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO