In this week’s Community Spotlight, Project AWARE catches up with Jo Roberts, a scuba instructor in New Zealand.
Tell us about your passion for ocean conservation.
My journey began in Egypt in 2011, where I took my PADI open water course. It was then that I discovered my passion for the outdoors. I spent the next 3 years travelling to dive destinations around the world and continuing my dive education, up to a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor in Indonesia, in 2014. By this stage, my life and values had turned upside down. I grew concerned with the environmental issues I was seeing around me, like plastic and overfishing. During my PADI Instructor Development Course, my interest in the Project AWARE movement was sparked, and I couldn’t wait to get involved.
Why and when did you get involved with Project AWARE?
I returned to New Zealand in early 2015 to start university. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Sport and Recreation, to build on my outdoor instructing abilities. Soon after my arrival, I began working as a dive instructor at Performance Diver. This position gave me the opportunity to start campaigning for Project AWARE. I remember our first ‘Sharktember’ Finathon® campaign;I went out to fundraise on the street with a massive blow up shark under my arm. I remember thinking, “This is what I want to do!”
What are some issues that are affecting your local dive site or favorite underwater areas?
In my local dive areas, I see the effects of overfishing on our reefs. The decline in large crayfish and snapper have left many kelp areas as kina barrens. These may recover, but only with time and implementation of marine reserves, which require a long and slow process to set up. Then, they take the fish, but leave the fishing line. Unfortunately, I often cannot take it out when I am with students, which is one of the reasons I decided to become a Project AWARE Dive against Debris Specialty Instructor.
My heart lies in the waters surrounding the South Pacific Islands. However, on my recent travels I have seen unbelievable degradation of coral reefs, especially in the Cook Islands. It’s not just the debris and overfishing here; this area is also experiencing consequences of climate change. These impacts are unfortunately harder to recover from. With the ocean’s acidity and temperature on the rise, I fear that many coral reefs will undergo a phase shift to algal dominated ecosystems in the near future. Losing corals would have a massive impact on the ocean's biodiversity.
What Project AWARE programs have you participated in? Tell us about your work.
Last year, the team at Performance Diver and I organized a sandcastle competition Finathon fundraiser. Currently, we are working on a “Debris Free” movement, which includes beach clean ups, dive against debris and spreading awareness about living plastic-free. We hope to include as many individuals and organizations as possible, because we know that the problem of marine debris will take a collective effort to solve.
What has been the highlight of your Project AWARE experience?
Wow, there is not one! Project AWARE has given me a standing, a purpose to my voice. You have helped me to promote the issues that I am most passionate about, in a positive way. I feel like, with your support, I am actually helping to make change. Organizing these campaigns is sometimes pretty full on, but I absolutely love it! The feeling when you know you have reached out to someone and changed their way of thinking – made them more aware – there are no words to describe how good that feels.
What is the most important thing you tell others about Project AWARE?
The ocean is mysterious, and she hides her pain gracefully under the waves. Just because we can’t always see what’s under there doesn’t mean that we can ignore it. If there was no ocean, we would not exist – there is an undeniable power to that. Sadly, many of us don’t give the ocean the respect she deserves. I like to ask people what their favorite thing about the ocean is, and then remind them that even though it seems like many bad things are happening to the ocean; we are making change and we are making a difference. We can shine a positive light on these issues and tackle them together.