If you’re a diver, you likely already know that many shark species are critically endangered. But do you know why their numbers are decreasing and, more importantly, what you can do to help? The Project AWARE Foundation is a growing movement of scuba divers working to protect the ocean, and its two main areas of concern are shark conservation and marine-debris issues. To help divers and instructors become proactive, Project AWARE created the AWARE Shark Conservation specialty course in partnership with PADI.
You must be, at a minimum, an open-water certified diver age 12 years or older. The study guide is available online at no charge, so whether you’re already a PADI Instructor or a student, you can easily access the materials. The program features a few slides that can be personalized with local shark photos and information, which is an excellent way to learn about your local shark species, if there are any. The PADI course includes two open-water dives, however it’s not essential that you see sharks to earn the certification; rather, it’s more about learning the positive and negative impacts to sharks in the area. Non-diving friends and family can join for the presentation to learn about ways they too can help, and will receive a certificate of attendance.
AWARE Shark Conservation Specialty Course theory covers:
- The unique physical attributes of sharks
- The conservation status of sharks
- Ecological traits that make sharks vulnerable
- The importance of sharks to marine ecosystems
- Major threats contributing to declines in shark populations
- Key management strategies that can protect sharks
- Value of sharks to local economies
- List of personal actions you can take to protect sharks
- Sharks in your local area or travel destination
- Responsible environmental guidelines for diving with sharks
Many divers assume that if they don’t see sharks locally, this course is not available. But as I mentioned, you don’t need to see sharks to achieve this certification. You’ll learn what types of sharks live in the ocean near you (if you live near the ocean), as well as what sharks you might see on a dive vacation. The course offers lots of information on why sharks are in trouble, and then offers numerous ways you can help. Once you complete the knowledge review in the study guide, you can find a PADI dive center that has an AWARE Shark Conservation Instructor on staff and complete the two open-water dives.
For PADI Instructors
As a PADI Instructor, it’s your job to teach divers about marine conservation, and nothing is more exciting that teaching your students about sharks. In the AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Action Kit, you’ll find the instructor and student study guides, PowerPoint presentation ready for personalization, and a certificate for non-divers. You can self-apply to teach the course if you have experience diving with sharks. Alternately, you can attend a course with an AWARE Shark Conservation Instructor Trainer. Once qualified, you may also allow students to do an AWARE Shark Conservation Adventure Dive as part of their PADI Advanced Open Water course.
Hayley-Jo Carr trains both divers and instructors for the AWARE Shark Conservation Specialty at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas. If you join for one of her PADI Instructor Development Courses, she includes this specialty free of charge — and offers a 100 percent guarantee that you will see plenty of sharks. Learn more about the IDC at Stuart Cove’s here.
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