AWARE Week: Activities & Events Around the World

By Tara Bradley Connell

With AWARE Week, 15-23 September, quickly approaching, it’s never too late to get your dive community in the conservation game. Here are some unique activities and events to check out for inspiration.

THAILAND: Crystal Dive Koh Tao

The eco-minded dive operator, Crystal Dive Koh Tao, plans on hosting a different event each day. Already on the agenda: beach and underwater clean ups, coral restoration, scientific research projects, and Project AWARE specialties.

AUSTRALIA: Geo Divers

This Sydney PADI 5 Star IDCs has never been shy when it comes to promoting Project AWARE Specialties. This year, the team is conducting a Kids Aware program at their local school and inviting them and their parents to participate in the shop’s Dive Against Debris® event on Sunday, 23 September, followed by a barbecue.

NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand Sea Adventures

Wellington’s PADI 5 Star IDC has always had a strong focus on rebreather and technical diving as well as educating their divers on the importance of ocean awareness. During AWARE Week, they are offering free Project AWARE Specialty Courses to their local dive community.

BAHAMAS: Bimini Shark Girl

Shark Girl Jillian Morris has been educating youth on the importance of conservation since she was a kid herself. Today, she’s a shark advocate, camerawoman, and Executive Director, Education at Oceanicallstars. This year, she’s going to continue spreading the message during AWARE Week with Sharks 4 Kids, her shark education program.

FLORIDA: Rainbow Reef Dive Center

It’s no secret that the dive community in the Keys is passionate about protecting their reefs and coastline. Rainbow Reef Dive Center, located in Key Largo, is going to host a Dive Against Debris event on 21 September for guests and local divers.

UNITED KINGDOM: The Fifth Point

Located in Northumberland, The Fifth Point has been incorporating conservation into their dive programs since they opened up shop four years ago. This year, they’re taking full advantage of AWARE Week with a beach clean up, snorkel clean, egg case hunt, Dive Against Debris, lobster release, marine talk and Dive Against Debris Specialty course.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Divers Down

We all know shark populations are rapidly declining, so Divers Down Fujairah is inviting its divers to take part in the Shark Conservation Specialty course on 22 September, in hopes of raising awareness of shark conservation issues.

 

Interested in bringing a unique event to your local dive community? For more info, or to download the AWARE Week Toolkit for help hosting an event in your area, visit the AWARE Week website.

How to Get Involved in AWARE Week

Written by Tara Bradley

Whether you’re a PADI® Instructor with a Project AWARE® Specialty rating, a dive shop owner, or a PADI Divemaster with a passion for conservation, there are countless ways to celebrate the ocean as an underwater ambassador during AWARE Week, 15-23 September 2018.

This September marks the first-ever global AWARE Week, a collaboration between PADI and Project AWARE in which the dive community will come together for nine days of education and earth-minded activities.

How can you participate? Start by offering Project AWARE specialties including the revised Project AWARE Specialty, AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Specialty and the Dive Against Debris® Specialty. From learning about sharks to understanding how trash gets into the water, each course gives divers the power to protect the ocean, with or without their fins.

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ABOUT THE SPECIALTIES:

Project AWARE Specialty

With the updated Project AWARE Specialty course, divers get an introduction to Project AWARE as a global movement and learn how to personally take action. The dry course is ideal for divers and nondivers, and focuses on the 10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet.

The AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Specialty

The AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Specialty course educates students on the value of sharks to marine ecosystems and local economies. The course covers the causes of declining shark populations, the actions to take to become an informed and passionate shark defender, and dispels common misconceptions about sharks.

The Dive Against Debris Specialty

Through the Dive Against Debris Specialty, divers gain the knowledge and skills to activate their inner citizen-scientist and participate in Dive Against Debris® surveys under the guidance of a PADI Professional.

Project AWARE Dive Against Debris Instructor

WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO TEACH:

PADI Instructors

All PADI Instructors are qualified to teach the Project AWARE Specialty and can apply to become Dive Against Debris and Shark Conservation Diver Specialty Instructors. Either take a Specialty Instructor Training course from a PADI Course Director or apply directly to your PADI Regional Headquarters (standard fees from your price list apply and 100% of the fee is donated to Project AWARE).

PADI Assistant Instructors:

All PADI Assistant Instructors are qualified to teach the Project AWARE Specialty.

PADI Divemasters

Divemasters can apply to teach Project AWARE Specialty course after taking a Project AWARE Specialty Instructor course from a PADI Course Director.

Want to learn more? Get tips on hosting or participating in events in your area from the newly launched AWARE Week site.

 

4 Tips for Hosting AWARE Week Activities

Written by Tara Bradley

In celebration of AWARE Week, a co-branded PADI® and Project AWARE® initiative aimed at empowering more divers to look after the underwater world, PADI dive operators and shops around the world will join together in a global movement for ocean protection by running conservation-minded events and activities from 15-23 September.

Whether it’s becoming a debris activist, saying no to single-use plastics or making responsible seafood choices, no action is too small to protect and preserve our ocean planet. AWARE Week provides you with the tools and inspiration to encourage positive actions for the health of fragile underwater environments, fins on and fins off.

Interested in planning an AWARE Week event in your area? Here are some ways to get ready and bring together your student divers, friends and family to act for change in your local community.

  1. Get ready to teach Project AWARE specialty courses: If you’re not a Dive Against Debris® or AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Specialty Instructor, apply for your rating today. One hundred percent (that’s right, 100%!) of your application fee is donated to Project AWARE. Not a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor yet? No worries, PADI Divemasters can apply to teach the newly revised Project AWARE Specialty course after taking a Project AWARE Specialty Instructor Training course from a PADI Course Director.
  2. Mark your calendar and start promoting your AWARE Week activities:
    Download AWARE Week social banners to spread the word. Create a Facebook event and use the #AWAREWeek hashtag on Instagram and Twitter to encourage participation and join the online conversation.
  3. Make your dives count and help clean the ocean: If you want to make your dives count for ocean protection during AWARE Week, conduct Dive Against Debris surveys. Download your Dive Against Debris survey toolkit, which includes the must-have materials you need to successfully plan and conduct a survey dive including tips to choose your survey site.
  4. Display the AWARE Week video in your local shop and gather interest for the Project AWARE specialty courses: Dive Against Debris Specialty, AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Specialty, and the newly revised Project AWARE Specialty. Ask people visiting your dive shop to leave their contact details if they’re interested in taking part in AWARE Week. Closer to the date, send them an invitation to sign up for a Project AWARE specialty course during AWARE Week or to any other event you may organize, a club night, a fundraising challenge – you decide.

Whatever you do during AWARE Week, make it fun and make it count for ocean conservation. If your students complete a course during AWARE Week, make sure they receive the PADI limited edition card supporting Project AWARE’s conservation work, and use this opportunity to celebrate the beauty and wonders of the ocean!

From kids to seniors, non-divers to pros, we can all make a difference in our global community. Join the AWARE Week celebrations!

For more info or to download the AWARE Week Toolkit for help hosting an event in your area, visit the newly launched AWARE Week website.

Aligning with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is the first global alliance working to solve the worldwide problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear, known as ghost gear. Founded by World Animal Protection in 2015, the GGGI works to reduce the volume of ghost gear, remove and recycle it, and rescue entangled animals. By aligning with the GGGI, the PADI® family can help mobilize divers to look for and report harmful ghost gear that annually entangles and kills marine life including hundreds of thousands of whales, seals, turtles and birds.

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PADI joins GGGI as a member of its global solutions group to help develop new ways of mitigating the ghost gear problem. This complements the efforts of Project AWARE®, which actively works as a GGGI member to build evidence through its Dive Against Debris® program. Working together, the goal is to develop and implement projects to reduce and remove ghost gear from the ocean. This includes equipping PADI Divers with the knowledge and techniques to identify, report and, with proper training, safely remove ghost gear from waters, creating a global movement of millions of underwater eyes on the lookout for ghost gear.

More than 640,000 tons of fishing equipment is left in the world’s oceans each year, with reports showing that this debris affects more than 800 species of marine life. Many nets lost in global waters are enormous – often far bigger than football fields – trapping and killing marine life under the surface. Mostly made of plastic, ghost gear is also highly durable and can persist in the oceans for up to 600 years.

“We are happy to team up with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative,” says Drew Richardson, PADI Worldwide President and CEO. “PADI is committed to protecting the ocean planet and, with our unique underwater vantage, the dive community can play a significant role in locating marine debris. Along with Project AWARE, we look forward to working with the GGGI to empower and mobilize PADI Divers to join the fight against ghost gear.”

“We are proud to welcome PADI, with its millions of underwater eyes around the world looking out for ghost gear, as a pivotal new member for the GGGI,” says Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection, the GGGI’s founding participant. “Ghost gear is a true global problem that knows no borders, and PADI will surely play a crucial role in helping us to locate, remove and recycle ghost gear, which causes such immense suffering for marine animals.”

To learn more about ghost gear and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, visit www.ghostgear.org.

Be Best. Be PADITM. The Way the World Learns to Dive®.

 

Positivity and Keys Strong After Irma

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Written by PADI AmbassaDiver, Jack Fishman

Much like the thick limestone structure of a bountiful coral reef ecosystem in the face of a Category 4 Hurricane, the resilience of the people in South Florida is powerful.  When I moved to the Keys three years ago, I was struck by the passion and dedication those living here have for the beauty of the land and sea surrounding us. Even before Irma, this spirit offered endless opportunities to forge community bonds and joint efforts to sustain and preserve the Keys and environs.

We certainly need that commitment now. Now that the storm waters have cleared and the winds subsided, we are left with damaged infrastructure and homes, vegetation scattered across roads and property, and debris tossed everywhere by the storm. The damage varies and each section of the Florida Keys fared differently – sometimes by mere blocks. The media has portrayed vast destruction and loss and sadly that is true – just not everywhere. Key Largo, where I live and work, suffered the effects of Hurricane Irma but luckily escaped the full weight of the storm. Oceanside homes and businesses felt the effects of flooding and high winds, but structures in Key Largo and the Upper Keys generally are still standing proud, with much of the damage quickly assessed and repaired as we eagerly await the return of residents and tourists alike.

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Sadly, so many in the middle and lower Keys (and even in the upper Keys) were not so lucky. My good friend Caitlin Scott is one of them. Nonetheless, she expresses hope, which she sees every day in how the community has come together. As she says:

“Marathon, a little island just under 10 miles long, was full of tropical lush scenery, until September 10th when Hurricane Irma tore through this little slice of paradise. I headed down several days after reopening, almost a week after the storm, and was met with a sight that brought me to tears. My beautiful island I’ve called home for the better part of four years was now in shambles. Where beautiful palm trees used to stand is now replaced by brown remnants of the tropical environment. Driving around the town quickly opened my eyes to what type of power Mother Nature really has; homes in ruins, business destroyed and people left with nothing. Through all of this devastation and some of the saddest scenes I’ve ever witnessed I saw something even more important, strength.”

Stronger than any hurricane has been the force of the community and first responders coming together. Responders from every corner in the country flocked down to the Keys to help corral debris, restore power and help residents make their way back to some state of normalcy.  Some left the safety of their own homes to come here and live in temporary arrangements to aid in the repair of our infrastructure. At my own home, an electric crew from Wisconsin was able to restore our power, while I was sorting out debris in my yard. I got the chance to personally thank them and offered to take them diving; thankful that even in a small way I could show them how much we all appreciate what they have done for us. We in the Keys owe a huge debt and thank you to all the emergency personnel who have dedicated their time and incredible effort to help the Florida Keys start to work its way back from the wreckage. As Caitlin so eloquently notes:

“The Keys community is something anyone would be lucky to be a part of, and after this storm I’ve never been prouder to call this island home. Everyone quickly banded together to help each other in whatever way they could, even when they themselves had nothing. First responders came from all over the country just to offer assistance in any way they could. The phrase “Keys strong” has quickly caught on during this rebuilding process and that could not be more accurate. The Keys community is made up of some of the strongest individuals I’ve ever met, and together we will rebuild our home into the tropical paradise we are known for. Phoenixes rise from the ashes and are reborn: well, Phoenixes have nothing on the Florida Keys, from the ashes we will rise, stronger.” 

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Now that the storm has passed, with fingers crossed that we (and everyone) stay out of the paths of the alphabet of hurricanes that continue to devastate, we at Rainbow Reef, the Key Largo-based dive center where I work, have been determinedly shoring up the dive center, getting things ready to take people back to the beautiful waters we love. As I am writing this, we are fully operational as are so many other tourist destinations and shops in throughout the Upper Keys, with rebuilding slowly working its way through the harder-hit middle and lower Keys.  And all of us are paying particular attention of course to surveying the state of our reefs.

We are not scientific divers, but we are ambassadors to the sea and to reefs we have come to know better than ourselves. As anticipated, the ocean off the coast has changed after Irma. Myself, our Marine Conservation Co-Coordinator Shayna Cohen, and our teams of divers have observed the effects first hand. What we saw at first was truly heartbreaking, topography of the reefs changed significantly across the barrier system. A lot of recognizable coral structures we knew and loved had changed, or were simply not there. The sand has been displaced. Sea fans and soft corals are less plentiful; however, the substrate is there to support their return. Many high profile coral structures remain and offer ever new surfaces and ground for new life to flourish. Algae (at first stripped bare) has started to return, enough to sustain many bottom dwelling fishes. It will be important to see how that changes over time. Coral heads once again peak out from their tiny homes, raising their tentacles in the water eagerly awaiting their next meal. Some are bruised and battered, yet some life has returned to the reefs. As we move into fall, the water temperature should drop, helping to soothe the frayed nerves of the reef allowing for a faster recovery then would the heat of summer. It is important to acknowledge the destructive capabilities of a hurricane, and the reality of the changes in reef structure, coral density and fish life. Overall we were very lucky. The reefs fared remarkably well given a hit from a category 4 hurricane. The wrecks in the Upper Keys are still standing proud, a few dings and missing pieces from the surge, but otherwise unscathed. Every day more fish return, with Sharks turtles and Sting-Rays still cruising happily along the spur and groove formations of the reefs. When these amazing creatures welcome us back to their home, we should dust off our fins, make sure our buoyancy is peak perfect, and treat the reef like an old friend who is very tired, and needs some time to get back to their old happy state. Let’s all do our part and give the reefs and animals the respect they deserve as we dive back into that beautiful watery realm.

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The weeks and months after this life changing event will be critical. As the reefs heal and change, the communities will continue the healing process as well.  And we too will need to change in some ways. We need to be that much more careful to tailor our practices and even our livelihoods to protect our fragile ecosystems and prevent further decline of so many vital reef species. Shayna Cohen does a great job of describing the changes over time first hand:

“A month ago, in an article I wrote for Project Aware, I spoke about a brain coral I have seen wane in size and prominence over my time diving my favorite reef. The truth is, following the hurricane, that brain coral is no longer there, and the juvenile colonies I saw as a beacon of hope are less abundant, but that doesn’t mean hope isn’t still there. Hope now comes in the Ocean’s resilience and strength. However, hope also comes from the knowledge that humans, and especially divers, can play a role now more than ever to help heal our marine ecosystem. As visitors of the underwater world, it is our exciting duty to acknowledge and learn from the changes left by the hurricane, and to use that information to be more conscientious and contributing divers.

We have our work cut out for us. For the past year, we at Rainbow Reef and others have expanded operations to include teaching and spear-heading marine conservation efforts with a focus on safe and efficient marine debris removal efforts. We cannot predict all the changes and materials that have entered our ocean after this severe storm. With the help of PADIProject AWARE FoundationThe LonelyWhale4OceanStream2Sea The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and many passionate individuals who make up our island family, we will be working hard to remove debris from locations throughout the Florida Keys. 4Ocean works very closely with our operation to ensure safe removals of marine debris, increased access for resources, and expanding perceptions across South Florida. We are endlessly thankful for their support.

Our well-trained and professional staff has already dived in many canals and lagoons to help remove odds and ends (big and small) and to restore accessibility to our waterways. This process will be ongoing, requiring time and dedication to ensure the debris does no further harm to our ecosystems. We will be coordinating with the community, government, professional and conservation organizations to use our skills to search for, aid in the logging of, and safely remove as much debris as humanly possible.

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We encourage you to come down and see it all for yourselves. See what mother nature is capable of. Get involved. Participate in the effort to haul, remove, sort and catalogue debris. Take the PADI Dive Against Debris Speciality with us and leave your experience with real meaning and training. On the reefs one must hone your skills. Make your dives count. The PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course is an excellent start to ensuring the continued health of our beautiful reef structures as divers explore the depths. Learn about Project AWARE’s 10 Tips for Being a Good Diver which lay the groundwork to allow all of us to ease back into safe and productive diving practices that leave the reefs in better shape than we found them. These practices help us become more aware as we accept responsibility for our reefs and become part of the healing process, instead of simple observers.

Remember “Keys Strong,” our rallying cry for healing and rebuilding the Florida Keys.  We are stronger together, and even stronger when those outside the Keys join us. We rely on tourism. We love to share our beautiful home with others and to work together to preserve what we have here. Thanks to the incredible work by First Responders and infrastructure teams from all over the world, we are nearly there.

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The best way YOU can help is to come visit us in the Florida Keys.

Dive shops are carrying divers to the reefs and wrecks, restaurants are open, motels are open, gas stations are open, bars are open, roads are clear. With the healing of our reefs around us, and restoration of the lives of residents and businesses here in the Florida Keys, we eagerly await your return.