My love of diving, ocean and conservation all began with an octopus who I met on my 4th ever dive. His head popped up out of the coral and he floated up staring at me with his beady eyes. He then flashed a few different shades of colours, dropped down to the rock, changed texture and completely disappeared. Although I knew he was there, I couldn’t see him. It was the most mind-blowing thing I had ever seen.
Then, suddenly he reappeared and repeated the same routine. He was toying with me. I couldn’t believe that this tiny squidgy creature was displaying such sophisticated behavior.
Here’s my little octopus friend….
After that encounter, I became pretty obsessed with octopuses and their multiple brains and hearts. And soon I was watching films and reading books about the seas and wishing I was a marine biologist again…a lost childhood dream!
I loved that diving had completely opened up this relaxing and fascinating world to me. Our planet is so big and full of nature, even if we can’t always see it.
Taking my interests further
I made a decision to take my passion for the oceans and diving further.
After scouring the internet I discovered as much as I could about ways I could get involved (if you’re interested in getting into marine conservation, check out my blog Have you always dreamed of being a marine biologist?).
On my search, I came across the GoEco Program at Utila Dive Centre (UDC). A month long training program focusing on teaching you the knowledge and skills needed to work in marine biology and conservation. It was everything I was looking for and more.
The GoEco program included…
- 5 conservation PADI specialties
- Training on a variety of surveying techniques
- Real life data gathering on fish, invertebrate and coral
- Hands on experience recording information on whale shark, dolphin sand turtles
- Getting involved with conservation activities on the island
It didn’t take much more convincing…
GoEco Utila Dive Centre (UDC)
The course was designed and run by UDC’s resident marine biologist, Jemma. Who was fun and amazingly passionate about what she is doing. Her enthusiasm rubbed off straight away.
On day 1, I was given my welcome pack and went straig ht into learning. The course started with an overview of our oceans; the history, geography, and ecosystems, before going into the challenges and big conservation issues of today.
The course theory was divided into 3 weeks. The first was all about fish and learning how to identify them. The second week explored the insane world of corals and how to gather information on their condition. The third week was all about, my favourite, invertebrates!
In between these classes, we had lectures on sharks, dolphins, whale sharks and turtles, so that we could record any sightings correctly. I’m happy to say there were lots of encounters…..
Putting it all to practice
The best part of the course for me was the hands-on training. I was diving every day.
I learnt how to carry out fish identification and coral health survey and logged these into a real-life research database used by scientists. Our final week was dedicated to combining skills and carrying out thorough surveys using a transect line technique.
My time underwater was now completely transformed. I can now identify pretty much everything I see on a dive. It’s such a cool experience to understand the world you are in….why couldn’t science be this fun in school?!
A seriously busy month
My learning didn’t end there.
I also got my Lionfish containment certification, which turned out to be quite a nerve-racking experience for me.
Got involved with, immensely satisfying (and frustrating), beach cleanups. Stop using plastic people!
And carried out as many additional survey dives when I could (you get unlimited diving on the course!).
It doesn’t end there for me
I was gutted when the course came to an end. It had been an amazing month with Jemma. Utila Dive Centre had been beyond fantastic and the diving unforgettable.
The GoEco course was hands down the best program I have ever done and good value for money. Not only do I leave a competent qualified PADI Master Scuba Diver, with an Eco focus (a title you will qualify to apply for after completing the course, assuming you are a rescue diver with over 50 dives). But I have a wealth of knowledge and skills that I can use to make a difference to the oceans.
It’s been a life-changing course for me.
There are so many options open to me now…
- volunteering in marine conservation
- assisting marine biologists
- becoming an advocate and educator
- Or, using my new knowledge to initiate my own project…..which is exactly what I’ve gone for!!!
Returning to the whale sharks
I saw an opportunity to return to Mafia Island in Tanzania to work with the locals who are running whale shark tours.
Many of them used to be fishermen. They love the whale sharks but know very little about them or how to protect them properly. Which is so important. Not just to look after the immediate wellbeing of the sharks while they are doing the tours, but also to educate the tourists about their vulnerability.
Close up interactions with animals like these make you love them. As Jacques-Yves Cousteau said “you protect what you love”. That’s the beauty of marine tourism! Sharks are in serious trouble and this is one way we can save them.
After completing GoEco, I feel I have the confidence and skills to help make a difference on Mafia Island and to the whale sharks, all be it a drop in the ocean. As well as educating the locals, I will be setting up a conservation project that will show the guides how to record the Whale Sharks they see to go into a public database that is used for research on these little-known creatures (seriously…we barely know anything about them).
Swimming with whale sharks daily, helping locals and making a difference in the world. It’s what dreams are made of. I leave in October as the season kicks off again. Obviously, I can’t blooming wait!!
Thanks, Go Eco!! I couldn’t have made this dream a reality without you…
The GoEco program is a 4-week training course run by Utila Dive Centre in Honduras. In addition to the full program, there is an option to combine training with getting your Divemaster and also to focus on individual conservation specialities.
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*Any women reading this?* I founded a women’s adventure community called Love Her WIld . Check out our private Facebook page and see what adventures we have coming up….we even now run a Whale Shark expedition 🙂