My enterprise is a not-for-profit-initiative-yes-for-education in Costa Rica´s Southern Caribbean Sea created in order to teach children between 3 – 13 years of age to dive “with purpose.”
My community is a coastal community that is perhaps the richest in cultural and ecological diversity in all of the country and maybe in the region. It is comprised of 5 small townships that host a total of 8,000 people. Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Cocles, Manzanillo and Gandoca have a long history of indigenous and Afro Costa Rican people’s presence that opened way more recently in the last three decades for people of over 52 nationalities to also come to live in an area of 52 kms. Of coastal zone that hosts five different kinds of reserves. Two forest reserves, one the Cahuita National Park and the other the Manzanillo/Gandoca Wildlife Reserve, a Wetlands Reserve, a Turtle Reserve and a coral Reef Reserve. The Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the Southern Caribbean amounts to 600 hectares of coral reef and 22,400 hectares of ocean in Cahuita and 4,436 hectares of ocean in Gandoca Manzanillo with a total of 27, 436 hectares according to official sources.
My life as a young Costa Rican born in the area has been one of constant symbiotic relationship with the ocean. I am the only woman in a family of ten brothers and only one is younger than me. Although my mother and father farmed, most of our food came from fishing. For as long as I can remember back in time, diving and catching sea food to take home to eat was my favourite pastime. And because I was the only girl, the boys became used to treating me like one of them, teaching me all the skills attributed to boys.
Today eco-tourism has become the main source of livelihood in the communities after cacao production suffered from a plague that destroyed that source of life four decades ago even before I was born. So as I grew up I learned to fish and dive, but also prepared to become a tour guide, especially guided tours of ocean life. Taking national and international tourists to see dolphins, turtles and rock formations along beached to taking them scuba diving to enjoy the magnificent scenery of the coral reefs and fish life have been my favourite activities as a guide.
Furthermore, one happy day in December 2014 I was invited to form part of a community scuba diving Centre that was being created in the Southern Caribbean to teach youth and fisher people to dive with tanks. The experience of remaining in the bottom of the ocean for a long time made me even more aware of the privilege that is living symbiotically with the sea. Live can be hard and its hardships can make us sad, but the minute you jump in the water and look around, the rest of the world stays behind, making scuba diving a meditation to gather strength to face live again and again.
I am also the maintenance staff at the small, local rural elementary school in my community of Cocles and in doing that, I soon learned that children´s parents do not have time nowadays to teach their children the swimming and diving skills that connect them to the historical marine culture and the ocean environment.
So on May 1st of 2015 a group of three young fisher women decided to form a Children´s Diving Camp as part of the community Diving Centre. It was not my idea, but I was asked by the Centre to become its coordinator because of my multiple diving skills. (video)
So the Centre was born on May 1, 2015 in Playa Chiquita as a one pilot project during a Lion fish sweep organized by the Community Dive Centre and the Association of Artisanal Fisher People of the Southern Caribbean (ASOpcs) that day. Lion fish is an invasive species that came from the Indo Pacific Ocean, thus having no predator in the Caribbean Sea except the fishing and diving community.
The beginning of the Children´s Camp was motivated by the desire of children who complained that there was a Diving Centre for their older brothers and sisters but not for them, even though they knew how to swim. So it was, that the three women who organized that community activity decided to organize a day of learning of diving for smaller children with the use of snorkel, mask and flippers. Rocio Leon had commented, "we must reach the small children also, before they become afraid of the sea."
First “teachers of the sea” (maestras del mar) were Luci Hernandez, Blanca Espinoza and Rocio Leon, who worked with children in developing a “harmonious relationship with the sea,” with the same emphasis of the Community Diving Centre: knowledge, appreciation and eventual capture of Lion Fish and cleaning of beaches and seabeds.
The activity where the Camp was born had gathered eighty grandparents, parents, youth and children to receive and celebrate the donation of diving equipment by the Foundation Action Now (Fundación Acción Ya) and the commitment of the Diver Store (Tienda del Buceador) in Puntarenas who committed to give lifetime maintenance to the donated equipment.
Since then it has developed 15 camps in Cocles, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, also projected for Gandoca in 2016 where children have learned very important skills, among them the following: to develop techniques for diving with mask, snorkel and fins; to develop beach and ocean debris cleaning, separating and recycling it; to participate in drawing and writings campaigns about the sea; to participate in species identification of the Southern Caribbean ecosystems and, to participate in capture Lion fish in the shallow parts of the Sothern Caribbean reefs.
On June 8, 2015 the Camp developed a campaign of children's drawings in tribute to the oceans in the United Nations Ocean World Day every June 8th since 2009. The special campaign by the Camp ran from June 8th- 20th of September when the 119 contributions by every school in the Southern Caribbean were acknowledged before the media. An installation of the drawings was presented at the IV Lion Fish Tournament organized by ASOpacs and Community Diving Centre on 26 and 27 September 2015 in Manzanillo.
The he Camp has also published the book in Spanish “A shark, the Lion fish and A Marine Biologist,” a story dealing with the need to protect sharks and to extract Lion Fish and the culture of responsible fishing in the Southern Caribbean. The story in the book is illustrated with drawings by the children.
Another major activity by the Camp that year was the nine children team that took part in a children’s category created for them in the IV Lion Fish Tournament. In a collective effort among all and with the strong support of the Camp´s adult team, they captured their first Lion fish in one of the practices for the tournament. The collective capture prompted a second children's story book: "Kimar,", to be published in 2016. The participation of children in the tournament merited a trophy for the children upon their capture of four Lion fish that day.
At the beginning I explained that the enterprise is for teaching children to dive “with purpose” so you might be asking by now, what is the purpose. Well, it is very simple: the purpose is to pass on to the new generation the love for the ocean, the need to protect it and the consciousness raising from an early age that done sustainably, it can be a source of a healthy livelihood.
At present, I am coordinator of the Camp with the assistance of Larissa Brenes and Maria Suarez Toro and mothers and fathers of the children who come to help.
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