During the first week of April, my position as a Reef Check Course Director led me from Florida to Haiti to teach 13 students the PADI Open Water Diver course. These students are comprised of Haitian school teachers and university students studying diverse subjects such as agronomy, architecture, medicine and business. Each student was selected from 70 original applicants to become part of Haiti’s first Reef Check EcoDiver team.
The Reef Check EcoDiver course includes both classroom and field sessions and is designed to train non-scientists to become certified to conduct scientific Reef Check surveys. The team from Haiti will run Reef Check surveys to track corals, invertebrates and fish. In Haiti, the main reason coral reefs are suffering is due to overfishing. All the big fish are gone and the local fishermen are now taking and wiping out smaller fish populations, like parrotfish and grunts, in order to make a living.
Before I went to Haiti, the students had already learned to swim and snorkel with Reef Check last summer (check out the video from the New York Times). With their skills getting better, it was time to introduce them to scuba…and boy did their eyes open! In Haiti, most divers are foreigners, so what an opportunity this was for locals to learn to scuba dive.
The students’ first dives were exciting because they wanted to swim all over the reef to check it out…so I really had to work hard to keep them with me. For the second dive I reminded them about the importance of the buddy team system, and they were great students after that! The second day of training dives went very well — the students were very good at getting themselves ready for the dives, helping each other, and some would even set up my gear too! Their buoyancy skills also became much better. We discussed evaluating ocean conditions, and the need to make good judgments about the ocean, the equipment, and who they are diving with because the closest hospital is over an hour away and the nearest decompression chamber is in the Dominican Republic.
On the last day the students took their final exam, and all 13 students passed! What a rewarding experience for a dive instructor and I only hope that I can do this in other places. I look forward to returning to Haiti to see how this Reef Check Haiti team is doing!
Find out more in the complete article at the Reef Check website. See also Youth in Haiti start training to become EcoDivers, and Ruin and Hope on Haiti’s Reefs, the New York Times video Nikole mentions.