Thursday, February 28, 2019

Overcome the fear

Celine is on her first trip it out of Europa. She took a twelve-hour flight from Zurich to San Jose and is now exploring Costa Rica. The reason for this trip is to visit her boyfriend, ConnectOcean's very own DM Intern Matthias! Celine likes the ocean as long as she can touch the bottom, and she likes to spend time at the beach, but water is not her element. She doesn't feel very comfortable in the water. That is not a big problem if there is no particular reason to swim in the ocean.  But, her boyfriend came to Costa Rica to do an internship as a divemaster. And of course, he wants to show her what he has been doing the last months. And yes, he wanted to show her the ocean with all the fantastic creatures as well... Now Celine has a small dilemma.

Celine is a curious person and likes to try new things. So she decided to do her open water course here in Costa Rica, even though she is afraid of the open ocean. She wants to see the beauty of the ocean that her boyfriend was telling her about, with her own eyes.

She finished her online theory and got ready to jump in the pool with Instructor Dave to learn the basics about scuba diving. This was already the first challenge for her, 200 meters swimming, and a 10 minute survival float. She isn't a really good swimmer, for that particular reason, she likes to stay out of the water, but now she has to swim the distance to continue with her scuba diving training. Against her apprehensions, she did a great job and mastered the swimming test. This success boosted her self-confidence and she started to feel more comfortable. The followings dive skills were no problem until she had to take off her mask under water. Water went in her nose and that caused some issues. She tried and tried, but she couldn't master the skill...  so she ended the first pool session a little bit frustrated, but not ready to give up.

Two days later Celine jumped back in the pool for another go at mask clearing and to learn the other skills. This time she overcame her fear, and was able to clear a flooded mask!. The rest of the skills were then easy. She was now ready for the open ocean dives!

The following day, Celine and Dave went to the diving boat to do her first open water dive. Celine was nervous but also very excited for this new experience. She entered the water like a pro and mastered all surface and underwater skills without any problems. And what a first dive she had! She saw sharks, a bunch of rays, big schools of snappers, grunts and other fishes. The second dive was as great as the first.

Even though she was loving diving, the skill on Dive 3 loomed ahead. She had to take off the mask again, and this time in the ocean at a depth of 10 meters. As the third dive approached, she once again conquered her fears and completed the skill!

Dive four, her first fun dive, without any skill training, was a well-deserved reward. Celine is now a certified diver, and is super excited for her next chance to dive!

When Nippers turn into mermaids

During our Nipper Lifeguard training, the participants normally learn about beach safety, work on improving their swimming skills, and practice rescue techniques.

But today was a special day! Katy Sakurra, a Russian freediver, came to speak to us about freediving. The kids were excited and ask a lot of questions, wanting to know more about this sport.

Katy showed us her equipment and explained the benefits of monofins and long fins.

After all the explanations she gave us a demonstration in the pool. The Nippers were impressed and were excited to try it.

Katy brought monofins for kids and so the Nippers turn into mermaids.

With Katy's instructions, the kids swam and dove in the pool. It was a lot of fun. The Nippers liked it so much, that they didn't want to leave the pool and continue with the beach training.

Only with the promise that we will do some freediving in the future together with Katy in the ocean were we able to continue the Nipper Program on the beach.

Thank you, Katy, for this fantastic hour and this new experience!

R/V Falko

Last Saturday ConnectOcean had the privilege to facilitate a Ship to Shore call with Research Vessel Falkor from the Schmidt Ocean Institute. The Institute aims to accelerate the understanding of our oceans with innovative research technologies, marine operational practices, advanced data analysis, engaging storytelling, and open sharing of new knowledge. We seek to advance the frontiers of ocean research by providing state of the art operational, technological, and informational support to pioneering marine science and technology development projects at sea.

We invited the students from La Paz, CRIA, Futuro Brillante, and our CEPIA group and joined the Ship to Shore call with more than 80 students. The participants learned about Deep Water Exploration in the waters of Costa Rica! Did you know more than 50% of Costa Rica has a depth of 2500m! The Scientist onboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor explained how they were using the ROV Subastian to explore underwater seamounts and ridges. The students had the possibility to ask questions and learn more about their interests. In general, the kids learned about the discovery of new species, and the ongoing efforts to protect these seamounts! What an awesome learning experience!

VIrtual Reality

Last Saturday we had the chance and the privilege to create a unique experience for our CEPIA group. As part of their explorer program, we took them on a virtual reality journey to Isla del Coco.

On our trip, we were supported by Roberto Cubero and Edgar Gálvez, who gave us a presentation about the magic island, and described how they took the footage we were about to view.

Roberto is working as a game ranger on the Island. He shared with us what ignited his passion to pursue a career in conservation, what makes Isla del Coco such a special place, and why he wants to show the world the beauty of nature. He explained how every day, pollution and trash end up in the ocean and affect wildlife. And this not just around Cocos Island. His is also passionate about protecting sharks and explained how important sharks are for a healthy ecosystem and the importance of protecting them. It was inspiring to listen to his stories and we are thankful that he shared his experiences with us.

Edgar is a storyteller. He has the same passion as Roberto, but he tells his stories in a special way. He took to the art of Virtual Reality for that. With Virtual Reality he is able not just to tell a story, he can take the people on a journey and show the beauty of nature. And if people can see what they hear, the impact is much bigger, and the people care more about it

So, we went diving with the group, but just in virtual reality. The kids were swept off their feet and enjoyed this experience. They look now forward to try Discover Scuba Dive as next step in their explorer program and blow their first bubbles under water.

The art of virtual reality brings a new tool for education. Now the students can dive from the classroom into the ocean and see the beauty and the biodiversity. This increases the learning experience and serves also to make the youth more sensitive to the conservation efforts needed to protect the world's environments.
If you want to have the same experience as the CEPIA group, email us to set up a journey to Isla del Coco for your students, group, or family!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Nippers are back in training

Our Nipper Lifeguards are back in training!We had a great training today and started the day with an introduction and discussion about how important lifeguards are and what the biggest challenges are here in Costa Rica.

The training started with the trimesterly assessment. For that, the Nippers swam 200m timed, treaded water for 6 minutes and also practiced retrieving an object from deep water.

After the assessment the class continued with swim training and they worked on their swim skills.

 Then we went down to the beach. There we reviewed how to choose a safe bathing area and how to interpret the flag signals. The Nippers set a safe bathing area up by testing the water condition, current, and other potential hazards.

In our safe bathing area the Nippers learned the STAAR methodology of scanning and assessing for potential hazards. STAAR stands for “Scan, Target, Assess, Alert, Rescue”
To memorize the acronym our Nippers got to create their own mascots in the sand explaining the importance of STAAR.

The winning creature was an Octopus called "Oscar" with a great story told by Eli.

We ended the morning with a game. We are looking forward to next Saturday, which is “bring-a-friend- day”. We hope to welcome a bunch of new kids and inspire them to join our Nipper Surf Lifeguards.

CEPIA is back in Las Catalinas

The CEPIA Group is back in Las Catalinas

On friday the 11th of January we had the first CEPIA class for the year! We were happy to meet familiar faces and to welcome new kids to our program. To break the Ice and to learn the names of the participants, we played a game. The group built a circle and one person was in the middle. His/her task was to catch the person who was named. The named person had to call another person’s name before he or she got caught. It was fun.

After that, we jumped in the pool and had a swim lesson. The kids did the exercises with enthusiasm, they were as excited to be back in the pool as we are to have them back.

After the pool session, we went down to the beach where Sio started to explain more about the ocean, waves, and current. In a playful way, the kids simulated a rip current and learned how to get out of it if ever caught in one. 

We ended the morning with a bath in the sea and a beach game. It was a great first class and we are are looking forward to next Friday to meet the group again.


We are Divemasters!

Me, Matthias, and Anna finished today our final workshop in our Divemaster training. What a nice start in the new year. After two month of hard work, learning and skill training combined with different workshops where we established emergency action plans for different divesites and drew a dive map we are now certified.

We are so proud of ousrelves!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Steps on our way to become a divemaster

On our journey on becoming a dive master, we must successfully complete different tests and workshops. On one hand there is the theoretical exam and on the other hand there are different sport and skill assesments. In addition to our self-study, we have together with our Instructor theory lessons where we work on different topics like "How to supervise divers" or "How to do a good dive briefing".  In the next few weeks, we get the chance to implement our theoretical knowledge in our daily business. Learning by doing.

Next, to the theory, we started to complete the sports exercises. The first two exercises we successfully completed were from the topic waterskills development. The first skill was 15-minutes water tread. The goal from this exercise is to tread water for 15 minutes, just wearing a swimsuit and without a floatation. For the last two minutes of the exercise, the hands must be out of the water.  

The second skill was swimming nonstop 800 meters in the pool, face down, using mask, snorkel, and fins, without using a flotation and without using arms for swimming. It was tough, especially since we just had finished a swimming lesson ourselves, but both of us successfully mastered the exercise. Anna finished in a time of 16 minutes and 52 seconds and scores three points and Matthias finished in a time of 16 minutes and 30 seconds. He scored 4 points.

The third skill was swimming nonstop 400 meters in the pool using any stroke or combination of stroke. We started our swimmtraining, but both of us had still some problems with our endurance. But we colmpleted this exsercise as well and scored points.

To pass the topic waterskill development we must score in the five waterskills exercises at least 15 points.  In average we must score three points per exercise. We are in a really good way to reach this goal, in the first exercise we scored five points and in the second three and four points.
Beside to all the sport exercises, we started to work on our demonstration skills. It is one thing to know how to do the skill, but it is something totaly different to demonstrate a skill. Especially to customers who probably never have been diving before. It is very important to show every skill slowly and with exaggerated movements. Explain exactly what diffrent steps the skill contains and show afterwards every single step.


During our training to become a PADI Swim School Instructors we have the chance to work with kids from the organization CEPIA. CEPIA is a non-profit Association pro-Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents. 

CEPIA was founded in August 2005 in Huacas, Guanacaste. There are many reasons to found an organization like this. Poverty, Violence, school dropout, health problems, unemployment. These are an everyday reality for many children and families in Guanacaste. CEPIA supports hundreds of children, teenager and their families from a poor background, through after-school programs, psychological help for victims, educational projects for high -risk youths, professional training, foodbank, a library and many things more. Their mission is easy formulated but hard to implement. CEPIA seeks to improve the quality of life of children and teenager and their families from a poor background in Costa Rica by promoting cultural development, educational and market opportunities, physical and mental health, social cohesion, and participation. 

The reality in Guanacaste shows, that one out of three children between 0 and 6 years live in a poor household. According to the National Institute of Statistic and Census, a household is considered as poor when the income per capita is below or equal to the poverty line of the area. In case of a rural area, it's below 81'344 colones. 41.2% of children under 7 years reside in households whose members have a low level of education.  Among the children aged between 15 and 24 years, the unemployment was 23% The national unemployment reaches 8.5%. All these factors lead to violence, drug use, student exclusion mental and physical illness, crime, gangs, and insertion yore, selling drugs, diseases. These social and economic, both at the micro level and at the level structure situations contribute to high-risk factors for youth sexually transmitted suicides, extreme poverty.

The solution CEPIA creates for these problems is 5 main aims.

1)      Solidarity – The main focus is the social inclusion of hundreds of boys, girls and youths and their family who are at social risk in Guanacaste. People can meet, join together, learn, talk, help each other and value each other.  The participation of the community in the activities and in the work of the community center increases educational, training and occupational opportunities as well as a greater personal development which promotes the eradication of child labor, sexual commercial exploitation, school exclusion, violence, and poverty. The children and their families belong to a group and in this reason, they are significantly less likely to be lead into illegal and violent activities. 

2)      A dignified, accessible, and safe space – The community center is a modern clean, creative and colorful public space with everyone's participation. For the community, it is open for use 24/7, 7 days a week.

3)      Education, health, culture, and well-being – Through the wide range of program and educational projects offered work opportunities and personal achievements are improved as well as the expansion of human potential. A good mental and physical health for people is indispensable both for personal success as well as a strong economy.  According to the perspective of empowerment, self-formulation and self-management of the projects are encouraged by the participant population. The CEPIA organization protects a pedagogical, holistic, integral, diversified, dynamic, participatory, gender- sensitive, contextual and humanist vision.

4)      Combating social, economic and community problems – CEPIA looks to decrease violence, inequality, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health illness, contamination, teenage pregnancy, school exclusion, gender violence, sexual commercial exploitation, undernourishment and malnourishment, poverty and extreme poverty and homophobia, among other problems of local context in a significant way.

5)      Interinstitutional articulation -  Interinstitutional and intergroup articulation is the base of integral attention.

If you like to learn more about this fantastic organization, visit their homepage.

ConnectOcean ais a proud partner of CEPIA and provides the kids and teenagers the opportunity to learn how to swim as part of their after-school program. Each Tuesday afternoon and Friday morning we have swim classes for these kids and teenagers. It's very rewarding, the kids get to learn swimming which is such an important life skill in a country like Costa Rica, and also get to participate in a new social environment and meet new people. The kids loves these lessons and for me and Anna as swim school instructors in training it's very rewarding to work with kids within all levels.    

Citizen Science

What does Citizen Science mean? Citizen Science is scientific research conducted by non-professional scientists. What does this mean? It means that everybody can help in collecting data for a specific research topic. Citizen Science is not a specific thing from the diving industry or within the marine biology community, but is a general thing for every kind of research. There are Citizen Science projects in astronomy and butterfly counts. The good thing about Citizen Science is, that everybody without special skills or specific knowledge can help in a research project. This helps the researcher collect a big amount of data from all over the world and much faster compared to if they would have collect all this data by themselves.

The marine biology community and the dive industry have some Citizen Science projects as well. ConnectOcean work hard on a few of them. We also initiated some projects. More about them later.  We have a multitude of projects that all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle! Our projects engage participants with hands-on place-based learning through data collection aimed towards conservation of our oceans. 

One of the projects is the Marine life census. In this project, we collect data through roving fish surveys, Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (BRUVS) and laser photogrammetry units. The Baited Remote Underwater Video Station is Video Station who is placed on the bottom of the ocean or free flowed in midwater or nearly on the surface. The Camera is focused on the bait and records all kind of fish who come and investigate the station. Back in the office we review the footage and count all fish by species in the video. This information is really valuable for us because it tells us which species are living in this area and how many they are. And this without disturbing the fishes. We try to use the station as often as possible and send it out on the different dive sites while we are diving.

We use the laser photogrammetry units to measure sharks, rays, and turtles. The Laser photogrammetry unit is designed by our partners at Ocean First Institute. The laser dots accurate a frame of calibrated 50 cm. We can record these laser dots with a Go-Pro Camera and process the footage afterword in the office. For example, to measure a shark, point them to two laser dots in a 90° angle on the shark and records this with the Go-Pro. Back in the office upload the footage on your computer and start the measuring software. With this software is it now possible to measure the shark on the non-invasive way. We try to bring the laser units to every dive and collect as much data as possible. If you dive with ConnectOcean, you get the possibility to help in a Citizen Science Project and can help us measure sharks and rays and conduct a roving fish survey. 

The Photo ID database of Oceanic Manta Rays Project is a project where we collaborate with MantaTrust. ConnectOcean is Costa Rica’s regional liaison MantaTrust. The general idea is to upload pictures of Oceanic Manta Rays from all over the world in a database. Oceanic Manta Rays have unique markings on their abdomen, like a fingerprint. This fact allows us to identify and track individuals. The logarithm in a software helps us to identify individuals through "face perception" with their marks on their abdomen. It allows us, when divers from all over the world upload their pictures from Oceanic Manta Rays, to follow the individuals and learn more about their movement and their migration. We collect as much data as possible from the dive center up and down the Costa Rica's Pacific Coast to populate the database we house and update. 

We also collect data on Vessels and user groups of the waters surrounding the Las Catalinas Islands. We try to write down and identify all types of vessel that we see during our dives in this region. For example, how many fishing boats can we spot and what kind of fishing boat is it? Is it a commercial fishing boat with longlines or is it a small artisinal fishing boat owned by a local fisherman?  By layering the data from our fish surveys and vesselsurveys and combining the results we can see correlations and maybe draw some conclusions. For example, if we don’t spot any sharks in a particular area but many longline fishing boats, we can interpret it as the fishing boats fishing for the sharks. This knowledge gives us the opportunity to talk with the fishermen from the community and we may be able to negotiate with them for temorary non-fishing areas to protect the species in there, so they have the chance to multiply themselves again and restore the population. 

We work on an application where all this Citizen Science Project get combined. The generation from today spends so much time on their smartphone. If we want attention from this generation and engage them in these issues we have to keep up with the time. The idea is to build an application that everybody can download for a small amount of money. With this money future project can be financed. The application is divided in four topics. Photo ID for Oceanic Manta rays, Collecting Data on vessels, Laser photogrammetry, and Marine life census. Anyone who has downloaded the application can now collect data and upload the pictures and counts. All these information helps us, to understand more about the marine life and why at some places just a small amount of fish can be found. With all these data and together with the local community, we may be able to build a marine reserve like Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo and protect the local marine life.

The Citizen Science Projects initiated by ConnectOcean are 5 place-based learning excursions to engage participants of all ages.

1)      Sources of the sea – During this excursion the participants explore the rivers and looking for macro invertebrate indicator species. We start Program in the Monte Verde Cloud Forest and follow the rivers down to the Guanacaste Coast.

2)      Intertidal Explorer – In this course the participants learn more about the five tidal zones (splash zone, high tide zone, mid tide zone, low tide zone and submerge zone) and the different species who live in the different zones. Part of the course is as well to investigate the species with microscopes and magnifying glasses. So, you get a closer look at these fascinating animals and their adaption to their environment. We also talk about the challenges and benefits of living in each zone.

3)      Mangrove Explorer – This course is linked to the Source of Sea Course. Because the rivers who are coming from the mountains cross the Mangrove Forests before entering the sea. In this course, we take small river boats and explore and experience the mangroves. During this trip the participants learn more about the importance of the mangroves. On one hand, the mangroves buffers storms and flooding who comes from the ocean and on the other hand the mangroves and their root system creating a nursery habitat for marine species to grow.

4)      Reef Explorer – The participants will go snorkeling in this course and explore the Reefs next to the beach. Here in Costa Rica, we don't have the typical coral reefs, they are made up of volcanic rocks. It is a habitat for a few species of corals as well as coralline algae. During this course, we learn more about the species who live in this area and how they interact to create a unique ecosystem.

5)      Open Ocean Explorer – Even though the ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and it makes 99% of the earth’s living place, only 10% has been explored by humans. In this course, we dive into the depths to see and track species and learn more about their interesting adaption they use to survive. We discuss ocean life and migratory species. And we can combine this course with a laser photogrammetry dive and measure sharks and rays.
Through all these courses a bunch of data can be collected for these different ecosystems. And all this without special skills or specific knowledge. And data collection has never been so much fun as with these projects. During these courses, you learn more about the different ecosystems get to experience amazing environments and at the same time you help to protect them. That's just great. 

 During our internship here with ConnectOcean, we are involved in all these projects. And we help to teach the participants. But to be able to teach, first, we have to learn more about these ecosystems. We join all the lessons from our Instructors when they are teaching to listen and to learn. Like with the kids from Futuro Brillantes who did the intertidal explorer (see the post before).

On the majority of our dives we bring laser photogrammetry units. We have learned how to handle and prepare the units, and how to control and calibrate the laser dots. One day we went with clients to Las Catalinas Islands to measure sharks and rays. The clients did this dive as part of the citizen's science program. On the dives we saw a guitar shark, different types of rays and seven whitetip reef sharks. We were able to measure some of them, and that is what we try to do on most of our dives. 

One day we teached five students as a part of their Open Ocean Explorer Level 2 Course how to build up the Baited Remote Underwater Video Station and to place it in the water. 

We also showed them how to use the laser photogrammetry unit. We did an exercise where the students had so measure a shark in the pool. Since there are no sharks in our pool, Matthias acted as shark for the students and they tried to measure him with the laser photogrammetry unit. After the pool session, we uploaded our footage on the computer and measured Matthias body size. 

The students saw how important it is to measure in a 90° angle and that it can be very difficult to see the laser dots in the video. But they goy super excited to try it out on a real shark in the ocean.  

One week later they got that opportunity. When we went diving to complete their Ocean Explorer course together with their Shark Aware Speciality Course we encountered several white tip reef sharks and the students got the opportunity to measure them. It was such a memorable experience and hopefully they now have more knowledge about why it's important and how to protect the apex predators of our oceans; our friends, the sharks. 

After two successful dives we had happy students and four new certified Ocean Explorer Level 2 divers!