By Sarah Martin, Communications Associate, The Ocean Foundation

After working at The Ocean Foundation for a little over a year,  you would think I would be ready to dive right in…literally. But before I went underwater, I wondered if I had learned too much about the bad and the ugly to focus on all the good there was to see in the ocean. I got my answer quickly as my SCUBA instructor motioned for me to keep swimming instead of just floating enchanted by the marvels around me. My mouth would have been agape, except for you know, the whole breathing underwater thing.

Let me backtrack a bit. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia. My first beach experience was Bald Head Island, NC when I was in middle school.  I still have a vivid memory of visiting turtle nesting sites, listening to the hatchlings start to dig their way out of the sand and make their way to the ocean. I have been to beaches from Belize to California to Barcelona, but I had never experienced life under the sea.

I’ve always wanted to work on communicating environmental issues as a career. So when a position opened up within The Ocean Foundation I knew it was the job for me.  It was overwhelming at first, trying to learn everything about the ocean and what The Ocean Foundation does. Everyone had been working in this field for years and I had only just begun. The good thing was that everyone, even those outside of The Ocean Foundation, wanted to share their knowledge and experiences. I had never worked in a field before where information was shared so freely.

After reading literature, attending conferences and seminars, viewing presentations, talking with experts and learning from our own staff it was time for me to fall backwards off a boat and gain first hand experience of what was happening in our ocean. So during my recent trip to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, I finished my open water certification.

My instructors told everyone not to touch the coral and how more conservation was needed. Since they were PADI instructors they were familiar with Project Aware, but had little idea of any other conservation groups in their area and in general. After I explained to them that I work for The Ocean Foundation, they were even more excited to help me become certified and for me to use my experiences to help spread ocean conservation. The more people that help the better!

After completing diving exercises, I got to look around at the beautiful coral formations and various fish species swimming around. We saw a couple of spotted moray eels, a ray and some small shrimp as well. We even went diving with bull sharks! I was too busy surveying my new surroundings to really notice the bad things I had worried would ruin my experience until another diver picked up a plastic bag.

After our last dive, my open water certification was complete. The instructor asked me my thoughts on diving and I told him that now I was 100% sure I was in the right field of work. Having the opportunity to experience first hand some of the things we are working so hard to protect (myself, TOF and our community of donors), what my colleagues research and fight so hard for was inspiring and is inspiring.  I hope that through my work with The Ocean Foundation, I can inspire people learn more about the ocean, the issues it faces and what we can do, as a community that cares about the coasts and ocean, to protect it.

As Sylvia Earle said in our video, “This is the sweet spot in history, the sweet spot in time. Never before could we know what we know, never again will we have a chance as good as the present time to do something about it.”