By Val Simon
Rookery Bay Reserve’s Learning Center recently held a unique hands-on experience for area children. It was the perfect combination of fun and learning. The event exposed the children to a variety of marine related professions while learning a bit about what inhabits our local waters. For children 10 and over, it was a chance to take the plunge into scuba diving!
The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) set up a huge Learn to Dive pool–a 17,000 gallon portable pool, complete with diving equipment and rigged with underwater cameras. In a joint effort between Marco Scuba, Scuba Adventures and Scuba Outfitters, the experience runs smoothly with plenty of local expert dive instructors.
Amelia Horadam, the Education and Learning Center Manager for Rookery Bay said, “We do this in partnership with the Collier County School District. On Thursday we hosted 200 school children and on Friday we had another group of about 200. For the first time home-schooled children were included and 40 children participated in that program. The event offers the children exposure to marine centered careers such as marine biology and education. The Florida Wildlife Commission participated bringing the star of the hit television show “Operation Wild” to talk with the kids. The Saturday portion of the event was open to the public.” It was a well rounded event for all ages, including a plankton lab, ongoing nature films, kayak tours, guided nature walks, a touch tank, knot-tying and information from the Ocean Conservancy and Drowning Prevention organizations.
Linda Chute said her son Bradley, and his friend Cooper, gave a thumbs up to the program! “I’ll be looking into a summer camp that Bradley can attend for diving. Children under 16 years of age can get certified to dive up to 40’ deep. When they’re 16 they can apply those dives to become a fully certified diver from PADI (professional association of diving instructors).”
Geoff Fahringer with Scuba Adventures said statistics from the Divers Alert Network actually show drowning fatalities are much greater in divers with over ten years experience. “Divers forget some of the fundamentals. A basic refresher course is highly encouraged because it practices basic skills such as mask clearing, regulator clearing, manually inflating your BC (buoyancy control device), equipment checks and more! A refresher course can save lives and they’re inexpensive.”
Geoff, and John Blake from Scuba Outfitters, explained the tank used in the Learn to Dive experience is collapsible and everything packs up neatly into a truck. The truck travels around bringing the same wonderful experience to other communities.
As for the kids, Jolie Sukonik and her brother Harry were typical examples of students trying diving for the first time, they thoroughly enjoyed it! “I liked it! I could breathe underwater,” Harry stated. Lia Okenkova exclaimed, “it was fun, except I got scared when my friend swam underneath me.” The most common response from the children was a bit of awe at the ability to breath underwater mixed with lots of giggles and smiles.
If you missed this year’s event, plan on participating next year. Amelia said they try to schedule it between Easter and the end of the school year. You can also find Be A Diver online at www.beadiver.com. Check for other great events at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve at www.rookerybay.org.