August 28, 2008

CISS Students Stand Proud After Successful Data Dive Quest


By Terry Umphenour

With initial help from Shanghai dive company Big Blue, 18 Concordia International School Shanghai students recently donned scuba gear and plunged into the Pacific Ocean on a quest to help save the ocean’s reefs. Ranging in age from 12 to 15, the determined ambassadors for the ocean entered the water on a mission to collect scientific data along 100 meters of fragile reef about 90 minutes by boat from Phuket in Thailand.
Responsibility for collecting usable data weighed heavily upon the hearts and minds of the students. Supervised by Reef Check instructors from Scuba Cat, a professional scuba diving company in Phuket, and Professor and Reef Check Thailand Coordinator Suchana Apple Chavanich, the data collection dive successfully ended nine months of training, study, sweat and tears.
Divided into groups comprising six students, a Reef Check instructor, and a CISS assisting adult leader, each team descended into the water, identified fish and invertebrate species, and collected data on the health and types of coral found along the section of reef chosen for the study. The first team entered the water early in the morning, confident of the skills necessary to collect data within the strict Reef Check parameters. Pairing off with a buddy, the team immediately broke into three buddy teams. The first buddy team conducted the initial fish count; the second team followed 15 minutes later and identified as many invertebrates as possible, and the third team followed closely behind to perform a substrate coral study.
Seventy intense minutes later, the teams surfaced with the precious data they had worked so hard to collect. An hour later, a second dive team left the security of the Scuba Cat, a boat named for the scuba company owned and operated by Sarah Kench. Breaking up into similar buddy teams, the second group followed the same format as the first group and collected additional data during their 70-minute session. In the early afternoon, the final six-member team entered the water collecting data that could be compared against the early morning data. Conserving air as much as possible, this team spent a full 80 minutes underwater identifying, counting and rechecking for accuracy.
The end of this dive ended the first Reef Check study for CISS and Scuba Cat and answered the one question that had haunted the students, instructors and adult leaders for the previous nine months: Could a group of middle school students conduct a strict scientific study that went far beyond classroom expectations and into the realm of scientific field research? The answer was a resounding “yes”.
The project was not easy, with many obstacles to be overcome, but the group proved middle school students were capable of reaching a standard usually set for high school students and beyond.
The 18 young people tackled the long hours of study on the physics and techniques needed for scuba diving and longer hours in the swimming pool learning to use scuba equipment. They went through the grueling process of becoming Advanced Junior Open Water certified PADI divers and managed to accumulate the 25 dives necessary to take the Reef Check data collection test.
Eight long days aboard ship, diving three to four times a day to perfect buoyancy and scuba skills, interspersed with hours of lecture, study, briefings and tests, did not derail them. The young global ambassadors took on adult responsibilities and proved themselves worthy. More importantly, they proved that young people really care about the planet on which they live and the creatures with which they interact. Now other students will follow and, hopefully, help save the Earth’s fragile reef systems for future generations.
Being active global citizens is an expected result for students attending Concordia International School Shanghai. Through their care, time, and effort, 18 middle school students can proudly claim they have reached that plateau.