We are proud to share Martina’s story as a symbol of hope to PADI Divers around the globe. It is our mission to demonstrate the passionate spirit of PADI Divers and encourage more to seek adventure and save the ocean.
Seven years ago, I left my life in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, because I needed a change. I decided to explore the world. My original plan was to take a year off and to go traveling as far away from my country as I could. That’s how I arrived in Thailand, the place where I went scuba diving for the first time.
When I was breathing underwater for the first time, I immediately thought: ‘wow, how has this amazing world always been here and nobody has ever told me about it?’ I couldn’t believe that I had never heard about scuba diving and the beauty of the ocean that lies below the surface. In Argentina, I was born far away from the sea and so we never spoke much about it in school or university. But after that first scuba diving experience in Thailand, I would hug the sea forever and I could never let go of it again.
The sea became my compass and I decided to use all my savings to change the direction of my life: to learn to dive, explore it and discover as much marine life as possible.
I promptly applied for an internship in Mexico where I would dive in exchange for work and they accepted my application. It was an incredible experience, I did my first night dive, my first cavern dive and I was also able to work as a whale shark guide. This particular experience of working with the biggest fish in the world dramatically changed my life yet again, as well as my way of understanding the world. Upon realizing how amazing this marine animal is, the biggest fish in the ocean, I started to understand how superior nature is and how much damage we, as humans, are doing to the ocean.
I recognized that a big reason for this massive environmental problem was the ignorance surrounding its existence. So, I considered that the best thing that I could do was to contribute my grain of sand to the ocean that I love so much; I had to start communicating its threatened state. Living so long in the city gave me the opportunity to understand that many people do not always, and may never, have the chance to encounter underwater creatures face to face as I did. But I was sure that if they knew about it, or if they had any idea of the incredible marine life that lives under the waves, then they would also fall in love with the sea. And, hopefully, they would consequently want to protect it too.
Communicating about the ocean and its needs in all possible ways quickly became my purpose. I decided to join together my original career as a journalist with my work as a divemaster in order to give a voice to the sea. After all, it cannot defend itself.
Once my time in Mexico ended, life took me to Bocas del Toro, Panama, a small archipelago in the middle of the Caribbean with turquoise waters, colorful corals, and an incredible local community living amongst its islands. It was here that I became a PADI scuba diving instructor, filmed my first documentary to protect sharks and learned more than I could’ve imagined from locals about the nature around me, things that I had never seen in any dive book.
Years passed and living for so long in such a small community allowed me to make lots of local diving friends. However, it didn’t take time for me to realize that in the water, I was always surrounded by men. Divers from various countries, for sure, but there were no local island women that were diving instructors, only those that came from other parts of the globe. In fact, I also realized that many local girls didn’t learn how to swim.
The community of Bocas del Toro is surrounded by water and survives on water-based tourism, so not feeling comfortable with the sea realistically reduces a woman’s working options. The language barrier that exists for you if you also do not know English only serves to make employment options that much more challenging.
So, I said to myself, ‘if I can get these girls to feel comfortable in the water, in the future they could be captains, tour guides, dive instructors, surf instructors and even learn to fish and feed all their family.’ For this reason, and together with the help of other powerful women who lived on the island, we started the Women of the Ocean program with the aim of empowering them through the ocean and making them connect with it.
Every Saturday we had a different activity that related the girls to the sea as well as an environmental talk to also raise awareness to protect our home. We began to get the girls accustomed to the sea in new ways, little by little without pushing them, playing games where they could stand freely in the water, then giving them stand up paddle classes. As they became more confident, we taught them to row, surf and snorkel. The girls were all too young to learn how to dive with a proper tank, but I hoped that after these water activities some would want to continue expanding their knowledge of all the fun the sea has to offer.
This is how I met Nazari, a local girl from Caranero Island who loves the ocean just like I do. Two years ago at Women of the Ocean, we gave a snorkeling class to girls in the program and I quickly realized that Nazari, in particular, was into diving. At the age of 14, she swam straight to the bottom of the sea without a tank and without fear. She told me that her grandfather had taught her to dive as a child while he was spearfishing. That day we talked and I told her that maybe, when she grows up, she should become a scuba diving instructor and be the first local woman to teach scuba in Bocas del Toro.
One year later, I left this magical place to continue exploring the world’s oceans, but a few weeks ago I returned to the island and saw Nazari, who remembered our talk. As soon as she saw me she said, “Martina, I was just thinking of you!” Excitedly, she told me that she was a year away from finishing school and she wanted to learn to scuba dive.
Thanks to the help of the local PADI dive center Diving Pirates, I was able to give Nazari her first scuba diving lesson. She was beyond enthusiastic and looked so confident in the water that it was my ultimate pleasure to share this experience with her. She even told me that her father had given her a scuba diving book and she had been studying it while I was away.
To me, to be a ‘Woman of the Ocean’ means to choose a free lifestyle, barefoot, with a healthy, self-sufficient body. It is learning to work with your body and with nature, together. While I was learning to be a scuba instructor, the sea taught me to be a strong and confident woman. This is a huge gift, and something exceptionally difficult in a society like today’s. That is why I love sharing my experiences with all of the joys of the sea and communicating them to others.
I believe that as scuba divers, it is our duty to also to spread this love for the sea and to share it in all its forms, for by sowing this seed we can inspire others. That is how great changes can happen.
Article by: @oceanomartina
Environmental journalist & scuba diver