By Hannah Tapping
An ambitious vision for the future is gathering pace in Cornish shores.
Plastic is entering our oceans at an alarming rate. According to Ocean Conservancy, eight million metric tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans every year, with plastic production and consumption predicted to double over the next 10 years. I learn of a new initiative, Dive Project Cornwall whose bold vision for the future is to save all life in our oceans. This not-for-profit, Community Interest Company is dedicated to tackling plastic pollution in our oceans, by introducing teenagers across the UK to diving and so empowering them to become the ocean influencers of the future.
As a PADI Divemaster living in Cornwall, this is a subject very close to the heart of Andy Forster, Project Director. I am keen to learn more and ask Andy to explain the project in some detail: “Dive Project Cornwall has two parts,” says Andy. “The education programme is designed to reach thousands of children across the UK via a suite of educational tools, videos and other resources available to schools through the Marine Conservation Society.
Founder Andrew Forster | © Jake Timms Photography
We are also communicating with millions of adults through our audience providers in order to raise awareness. In collaboration with media partners, charities and sponsors, which include leading national dive brands such as Suunto, Beuchat, Cornwall-based fourth element and, of course, PADI (the largest dive training organisation in the world), we are able to share our message across social media and various other communication channels. Our current reach is just shy of 10 million adults already.”
The second part of Dive Project Cornwall is an amazing experience programme, available to all secondary schools across the UK. Through a nation-wide competition, schools can compete for the opportunity to bring 20 of their students from each of 20 regions across the UK, on a week’s residential course at Porthkerris. That’s a total of 400 lucky teens set to visit Cornwall’s premier dive centre, where they will be trained by experienced, qualified PADI Instructors and leave as certified as PADI Open Water Scuba Divers.
© Jake Timms Photography
“Not only will the children leave as qualified Open Water Scuba Divers, they will also learn first-hand, from leading marine industry experts, the important part our oceans play in the survival of the planet and how this impacts our very own existence,” adds Andy. “The aim is that these children will leave as ambassadors for the project, sharing their experience and knowledge with friends and families, so activating a network of campaigners whose mission is aligned with our own; to save the ocean.”
Andy’s passion for the ocean and diving is apparent; as is his desire for this to be accessible to all children and this has been the driving force for him in setting up the project. “I have four children and they are exceptionally lucky that I have been able to provide for them – there are so many children that don’t have this luxury for various reasons. I believe that it’s the God-given right of every child to walk on a beach, and with Dive Project Cornwall I wanted to take it one step further and show children what the ocean is all about.”
“I’ve been a commercial person all my life and decided that it’s time to give something back. My time is funded by my media company, Leven Media Group, which means that every penny of sponsorship goes into the project to facilitate the experience and education.” Andy’s own introduction to diving came when his best friend invited him on the trip of a lifetime to dive with the great white sharks of Guadalupe Island, some 120 miles out in the Pacific ocean. “We found out that to go down in the submersible cage you needed to be open water qualified. As I’m not the sort of person to miss out on a thing, I took the necessary qualification and have been absolutely hooked on diving ever since. Diving has drawn me closer to the ocean and helped me to realise both its importance and its fragility. Four years on from that first dive with sharks, I’ve done over 500 dives, meeting some incredible and passionate people on the way.”
Andy currently volunteers at Porthkerris as much as he can, helping out with teaching children and accompanying guided dives. I’m interested as to when the realisation came to Andy that he could use his commercial background, combined with his love of diving, to make a real difference in the education of young people on the problems of plastic pollution. “There’s no doubt that everybody knows that plastic pollution ‘is’ a problem – it’s a hot topic across the UK and world media. What I wanted to do is raise awareness by telling people ‘why’ it’s a problem and what are its knock-on effects.”
“There are a lot of people out there who continuously bang the table and point the finger, saying “don’t use plastic”, which is okay in itself, that’s a given. However, for me it’s less about the dictum and more about the inspiration and engagement. With Dive Project Cornwall, yes, it’s the same message, just delivered in a different way. By raising awareness and inviting these 400 children to experience diving and the incredible beauty of the ocean, both above and beneath the waves, it is my hope that they will hopefully consider plastic pollution with more care and thought.”
© Jake Timms Photography
Financial support for the project comes in various forms, but perhaps becoming a ‘dive buddy’ is the most accessible. As a buddy, individuals or companies are able to sponsor one or more children to experience Dive Project Cornwall’s residential programme and to support them in becoming an Ocean Influencer. The numbers are crazy; by supporting just one child they can go on to inform thousands of their peers, and in turn millions of adults, of the importance of the ocean and its marine environment and how we can protect it for the future. “The project has an initial, three-year timeline. Following that, we will be recruiting a group of marine biology students in Cornwall, who will be trained to take on the project and continue it for many years to come.”
© Jake Timms Photography
The intention to influence these children in their formative years through direct dive experience is a clever one. Add in the school education programme and Dive Project Cornwall is clearly a very forceful vehicle for environmental change. Who knows, some of these children may be world leaders of the future? Imagine the powerful message they will be able to convey, having experienced the depths of the ocean and the vital role it plays in our very existence, at such a young age.