By: Asher Warren
Hi, I’m Asher Warren and I’m 10 years old. This summer I got PADI dive certified at Mermet Springs, a quarry in Southern Illinois. My instructor and everyone there were so encouraging, kind and helpful.
The PADI eLearning portion was easy and fun – especially the diagrams in the review videos. Of the five eLearning sections, my favorite was section one because it talked about the effects of increasing and decreasing air volumes. The pool skills were very exciting because I got to put on the gear and breathe underwater. I had a big fear of equalizing, which is pushing air into your ears and sinuses. My mom helped me work through that and before I knew it, we were going down to the bottom of the pool.
Completing the PADI Open Water Diver Course
When we got to the open water dives, it was all the more exciting. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I plunged into the deep, murky waters of the quarry. Diving in a quarry isn’t too bad when you’re in the first few feet. But once you get under that, brrrrr! There were little fish in the warmer layers that were attracted to our hands. They would swim right up to me, but when I reached out to touch them, they shot away. The PADI course was challenging, but I would tell any kid to go for it because the feeling of accomplishment was so great that I felt that I had just run 100 marathons. I was so glad to become part of a community of divers who encourage one another to grow in confidence and look after the ocean. I couldn’t WAIT to take my first plunge in the sea.
Visiting a Mission Blue Hope Spot
I had the opportunity to travel with my mom and little brother to visit a National Marine Park called Guanahacabibes, on the western point of Cuba. It became an official Mission Blue Hope Spot last year. I wouldn’t have been able to see any fish if it weren’t for the conservation work the locals have been doing since 1994, during a time known as the special period when Cubans were starving.
We stayed with “Flaco”, a local who lives in la Bajada, a small coastal village. He had just finished expanding rooms at his house for visitors to stay. His uncle remembers a time when they were so desperate for food, they had to kill sea turtles and take as many fish as they could find to feed their family.
But that all changed when marine scientists started to teach kids in their school about conserving their environment. I had the chance to meet Dr. Dorka and Osmany Borrego – two of the park team members who’ve been involved for years in this program. They were really fun and I liked some of the conservation games they played with me and some of the Cuban kids. One was about fishing and it teaches you which fish to catch and what not to catch.
Connection to My Life & Yours
One of the programs the national park team does is to work together with local families and visiting divers like me, to pick up trash that has floated in on the currents.
I learned this plastic pollution is a big global problem. It washes in every day. I noticed in our trash bags, we collected a lot of plastic bottle caps and hundreds of tiny broken-down pieces of plastic. It made me realize that I should use my cup more and stop mindlessly tossing bottles in the garbage. I wondered if some of those plastic containers had been tossed out ten years ago by someone I never met. And yet, here I am with my new Cuban friends, seeing the results and recognizing if we each took care of our little patch of the world – with little daily choices, things would look dramatically different. After the beach clean-up, it was so hot that Osmany took us to a local swimming spot to cool off. It felt great!
Feeling Thankful to the Cubans
The next day, I experienced choices of people who decided to be part of the solution. For the past three years, Dr. Dorka and her team have been working with Florida scientists to make a coral nursery here. The coral nursery was very interesting. It had PVC pipes with an empty coca-cola bottle at the top to keep the structure balanced with its buoyancy. On it, hung young staghorn coral suspended by fishing line. After a few years, they get replanted. I saw a lot of staghorn coral flourishing on the reef and growing. I felt thankful that the people here were helping as much as they were. It made my first ocean dives phenomenal and I was able to enjoy it with my mom, and local diving instructor Rafael Valdez! We saw loads of fish like queen angels, French angels and barracudas. We saw little baby shrimp and even a sea cucumber. The coral was so bright and you could see for 100 feet! It was so relaxing and simply FANTASTIC!
Seeing Sea Turtles!
One of the longest-lasting impacts of change I saw was when the Cuban kids and I went to go see the mother sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach, under the moonlight. I saw over sixty marked nests, which means a whole nother generation of almost 9,000 eggs is in the protected care of local volunteers. Melissa (age 11), one of the girls from la Bajada who went with us that night, told me she loves to see this every year.
Learning a New Economy
Before the people started conserving the ocean here, they were taking fish out to live and earn money. But that means that the number of fish and turtles to be caught is continuously declining. So if we continued on that path, sometime in the future, there won’t be anymore.
What I have seen from the choices people have made in this Hope Spot is people want to come and stay and spend money to enjoy what has been recovered. Osmany told me his hope is to inspire others that if it can be done here, it can be done anywhere. I love knowing that when I come back, I have friends here who I can have fun with while conserving the environment together.
Totally Worth It!
What I learned this summer is that it’s good to get off video games for a while and enjoy what’s out there in the world and be a part of real solutions. I know lots of kids my age would feel the same if they decided to dive into a new skill. Learning to dive was challenging, but it was worth it because I got to make new friends and see cool things.