Diving with Purpose:
through Local Empowerment
Coral reefs provide daily food and income for millions of people, give over 25% of marine species a home to grow up in, protect coastal communities from erosion, flooding and storms, create billions of dollars in revenue for tourism and other industries, plus combat climate change by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen (over half of the oxygen in our atmosphere comes from corals).
Cartagena's surrounding islands are home to healthy coral and thriving tourism. However, the Afro-Colombian island communities live in poverty due to a history of structural racism and environmental exploitation. With few formal job opportunities, the local economy on the islands is based on fishing, which can include unsustainable practices such as dynamite fishing, using nets that do not comply with regulations and capturing animals that are endangered. Regrettably, professional dive courses and training are too expensive for most locals and thus many have never seen a coral reef, do not benefit from the dive industry, and do not play a role in protecting their own ecosystem.
We seek to change unsustainable fishing practices in addition to local unemployment by training select youth from the island town of Bocachica to see their reef and become professional divers. Tourists create a demand for professional dive guides and scientists need coral reef monitors--positions that could be filled by the native population if they had adequate training.
To date we have taken over 60 island youth to see their own coral reef, many of which have completed PADI certification courses as well. 100% of their training is funded by our dive center, Paraiso Dive Cartagena. This project furthermore takes special consideration to educate and train young girls as it has been shown time and time again that empowering females through education and economic advancement leads to more equal, sustainable communities.