2019 DIVING COMMUNITY CHAMPION FINALISTS
Nominee: Deep Sea Valkyries
FOUNDED IN 2014, DEEP SEA VALKYRIES UTILIZES RECREATIONAL SCUBA DIVING AS AN ALTERNATIVE FORM OF THERAPY TO INJURED VETERANS AS A METHOD TO COMBAT VETERAN SUICIDE AND ENHANCE LIVES POST-SERVICE. OUR MISSION IS SIMPLE - WE WORK TO ENHANCE THE LIVES OF VETERANS THROUGH THE TREATMENT OF POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER AND OTHER COMBAT RELATED INJURIES WHILE INTRODUCING THEM TO HEALTHY OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES. WE TAKE VETERANS FROM ACROSS THE NATION ON WEEK LONG LIVE-ABOARD DIVE RETREATS. WE PROUDLY CHARTER OUR RETREATS EXCLUSIVELY THROUGH ANOTHER DEMA MEMBER (ALLSTAR LIVEABOARDS) AND WE WORK DIRECTLY WITH SHOPS LOCAL TO THE VETERAN TO CONDUCT THEIR DIVE TRAINING AND CERTIFICATIONS PRIOR TO THE RETREAT SO THEY ARE PREPARED FOR THIS EXPERIENCE. WE INCORPORATE CONSERVATION INTO OUR WEEK AS SEA AND OUR VETERANS HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO COMPLETE CERTAIN PROJECT AWARE COURSES PROVIDED BY OUR STAFF.
THE VETERANS WHO PARTICIPATE IN OUR PROGRAM SHOW A MARKED IMPROVEMENT IN THEIR QUALITY OF LIFE AND MENTAL HEALTH POST RETREAT WITH EVALUATIONS TAKING PLACE AT THE 3, 6, AND 12 MONTH MARKS TO DETERMINE CONTINUED GROWTH. SINCE COMPLETING OUR PROGRAM, PAST PARTICIPANTS HAVE GONE BACK TO SCHOOL, RE-ENGAGED IN THEIR COMMUNITY AS VOLUNTEERS, GIVEN BACK TO OTHER VETERAN SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS, RETURNED TO OUR PROGRAM AS VOLUNTEER STAFF TO GIVE BACK TO OTHER VETERANS, CHECKED THEMSELVES IN TO INPATIENT PROGRAMS TO GET CLEAN OF THE MYRIAD OF MEDICATIONS PRESCRIBED BY THE VA, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, CONTINUED TO DIVE. SEVERAL HAVE FURTHERED THEIR DIVE TRAINING TO THE DIVEMASTER LEVEL AND ARE NOW WORKING IN THE DIVE INDUSTRY THEMSELVES.
FOCUSING ON A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HEALING, OUR PARTICIPANTS CONDUCT NEARLY 25 HOURS OF GROUP COUNSELING SESSIONS WITH A LICENSED COUNSELOR WHO IS ALSO A VETERAN, MORE TREATMENT THAN MOST RECEIVE IN SIX MONTHS TO A YEAR WITH TRADITIONAL PROGRAMS. PAIRED WITH GUIDED SEA ADVENTURES AND DAILY SPIRITUAL DEVOTIONS SPEAKING TO THE MORAL INJURY OF WAR. EACH OF OUR VOYAGES OFFER HEALING OF THE MIND, BODY, AND SOUL.
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Nominee: Dixie Divers
Dixie Divers coordinated their annual Deerfield Beach Pier Cleanup. To bring in divers to help support the cleanup effort, they registered to break a Guinness World Record. Largest Underwater Clean-Up. On June 15, 2019 they set a new record with 633 SCUBA Divers. There were also numerous volunteers helping with the topside clean-up and coordination. As a result of these efforts 1,826 lbs. of lead including over 5,100 sinkers. 101.7 lbs. of fishing line including over 6,200 pieces, 644.5 lbs. of miscellaneous items such as knives, fishing poles, wood, metal fragments and of course a 45 lb. dumbbell was removed from under the pier and in the surrounding area. Totaling a weight of 2,572.2 lbs of debris was removed and either recycled or disposed of appropriately by the city of Deerfield Beach. Not only was this a very enjoyable experience for those who participated it was a huge environmental success, a boost to the local communities economy and helped bring together divers from across the US and the world. Dixie Divers and the Guinness event was trending on social media and the event punished by several media sources across the globe, including but not limited to BBC.
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Nominee: Patriot Scuba
With nearly 18 billion pounds of plastic entering the ocean each year, the staff at Patriot Scuba always has an eye out for ways to improve our environment, especially our waterways. Located on the Occoquan River, a tributary to the Potomac, we are reminded daily about the trash that finds its way into our water. Whether it is blowing down the driveway or washing into our parking lot heading toward the river or floating by, already in the river, we are constantly reminded of the damage trash can do. To help, we routinely clean up the trash in our lot to prevent it from entering the river and perform several river dives a year to clean out the trash that has already found its way into the Occoquan.
With these ongoing projects, it only seemed natural for us to look for other ways to prevent more plastics from polluting our waterways. By chance, one of our owners, Merial, read about the Trex Bags to Benches program that her neighborhood was participating in and decided that Patriot Scuba could team up with Trex for a program in their town.
Patriot Scuba is located in the small Historic Town of Occoquan which is home to about 1000 people and over 50 businesses. One of the longest standing issues in town is the lack of places to sit and relax along the sidewalks and town dock in the Historic District. Bags to benched seemed like a natural solution to the seating problem. The program was presented to Dessie Larson, our Project Aware Coordinator, she loved the idea and ran with it.
Dessie signed us up with Trex and picked a 6 month period during which we had to collect 500 pound of stretchy film in order for Trex to donate a bench to us. We could then keep the bench or donate it to any organization of our choosing. With huge community support, we reached our goal in less than 4 months and asked a fellow diver who also owns a shop in Occoquan to sign up for the program and report the plastic that came in after we reached our goal until our next 6 month period came around as . Trex will only donate 1 bench to an organization in 6 months. To date, we have collected over 1257 pounds of stretchy film plastic like the kinds found in shopping bags and single use water bottles. We are well on our way to our 3rd bench and will keep going until we run out of space for benches. The community has embraced this project and we have new people coming in daily to drop off their plastic. It takes approximately 49,500 grocery store bags to make 500 pounds. End to end, that is just shy of 10 miles of plastic that will not be entering our oceans for every 500 pounds we collect!
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Nominee: Save Our Leatherbacks Operation
Dr. Larry McKenna, Founding Director of Save Our Leatherbacks Operation (S.O.L.O.), a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation, is nominated for DEMA’s Diving Community Champion Award for efforts in environmental conservation/education. Starting in 2002, he first focused on the critically endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle and more recently on marine litter that brings death to marine animals including turtles.
Working on a remote nesting beach in Papua, Indonesia, in partnership with a local subsistence village, S.O.L.O. met its goal to significantly increase this sea turtle’s hatching rate. Thousands more Leatherbacks now swim the Pacific and return to that beach to nest. Dr. McKenna led dive trips over fifteen years that allowed hundreds of divers to witness the foundation’s conservation activities and related efforts to improve the villagers’ quality of life.
Another goal is to educate people worldwide about the Leatherback Sea Turtle and the threats it faces. The foundation’s website has more than seven million views. Dr. McKenna speaks at many venues worldwide. He has briefed the United Nations and convinced a US President to issue an executive order to end US EXIM bank funding of foreign fishing operators whose poor practices harmed Leatherbacks.
By 2015, the Papuan nest conservation work was largely being stewarded and operated by the village partners. So, with help from colleagues at “ADEX” in Singapore, Dr. McKenna developed 11th Hour Heroes to launch additional marine environmental projects within S.O.L.O.’s foundation structure.
The first such project was launched at “DEMA Show 2016”. Project goals, set in a partnership with Mel Agudo, owner of Marco Vincent Dive Resort in Puerto Galera, Philippines, are to reduce local marine litter and illegal fishing. Among the volunteer team’s successes are local clean up campaigns and modestly increased marine park dive fees to fund better enforcement of existing fishing regulations in the Verde Island dive area. S.O.L.O.’s leaders are pleased to see that this team’s clean up campaigns have spawned more local community activity to further reduce marine litter. Also, in 2018, a dive group from Dallas, Texas, participated in one of the team’s cleanups, and upon returning home, did several lake cleanups.
The cleanup campaigns provided research data about marine litter now used for the foundation’s newest effort, Project Komodo, launched in 2019 at “Our World Underwater” in Chicago with the goals to educate about marine litter and clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The foundation chose the Komodo Dragon as mascot for this project due to its efficient eating habit of leaving nothing, not even bones, behind. It will use a unique approach from Dr. McKenna’s prior US Air Force experience designing airplanes and helicopters. To further public education, the foundation collaborated with a professor and visual arts students at Lonestar College in Texas to develop an educational brochure that highlights the journey of a plastic bag from first use until it reaches our oceans. Dr. McKenna also spoke about Project Komodo at “EarthX” public environmental exposition and “Scuba Show” in Long Beach and will speak at “DEMA Show 2019”.
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Nominee: ScubaRadio (Overboard Entertainment, Inc.)
Scuba Radio is radio talk show with a diving theme. Pictures are painted of the underwater world as listeners and guests share their diving adventures.Every diver has a story about the perfect dive, destination, or encounter with some amazing sea creature. Scuba Radio provides the forum. It's like hanging out at a Tiki hut and sharing fish tales with friends. Scuba Radio covers all aspects of diving, including the best dive sites, dive gear, live-aboards, shark diving, and much more.Each week you'll hear interesting people known throughout the dive industry, such as Jean-Michel Cousteau or Captain Slate, a Key Largo-based character who has a knack for feeding fish with his face! Scuba Radio began airing on the last Saturday in March of 1997. Every week thousands of listeners are tuning into Scuba Radio via radio stations scattered throughout the US.
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