Developing the next generation of scientific divers
FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS the nonprofit marine science education program known as SCUBAnauts International (SNI) has introduced young people ages 12 to 18 to informal science education through underwater exploration. While many youth organizations exist in the dive industry, this group’s scientific rather than recreational nature and its strong foundation in dive safety give SNI a unique identity.
With a focus on marine research and undersea conservation projects, full-fledged members — known as Nauts — can make a positive impact on the environment with hands-on experience, while active citizenship and community service empowers them to become future leaders.
Nauts follow an exciting pathway of personal development, learning team-building skills and the importance of leadership through participation in real-world underwater marine research activities with institutions such as NASA and the Mote Marine Laboratory. Scientists guide all SNI missions and provide training for mission success.
Through research diving and one-on-one interaction with mentors, Nauts master the dive skills necessary to be safe in the water. They foster their passion for the undersea world with knowledge and experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Since its inception, SNI’s focus has been providing youth with a safe learning environment, so leaders spend a lot of time teaching them safe dive techniques. All the physical dynamics involved in safe scuba diving must become second nature for Nauts so they can use scientific tools underwater while observing and recording data without becoming task loaded.
To qualify as American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) scientific divers, all members participate in rigorous training upon first joining. They must also renew their status each year through participation in a swim test, scuba skills and diver rescue evaluations, and CPR and diving first aid training.
“At the start of 2023 we trained 51 teens and their parents through the full DAN Diving First Aid for Professional Divers course,” said Katie Cooper, SNI’s chief operating officer and dive safety officer. “Another 32 participated in our off-year challenge, where we asked them to complete hands-on practice of key skills while their formal certification is still valid. This training is one of the first requirements for new families with our organization, and each year it sets the stage for the safety culture of our organization.”
In addition to required safety qualifications and ongoing skills training, SNI has its own dive control board. Volunteer dive safety experts from government, educational, and private agencies and institutions constitute the board, which ensures that all Naut dive missions comply with AAUS research dive standards and practices.
Becoming a scientific diver takes dedication, but the positive impact on young divers’ personal character development is worth the time and effort. The critical thinking skills and emergency first aid techniques they learn in adolescence follow them into adulthood and wherever their dive careers take them. Many Nauts plan to study marine sciences or dive research and receive scholarships for college tuition or internship programs from SNI’s partner scientific organizations.
“About 70 percent of our alumni pursue careers in a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] field, and 60 percent report they are still active divers after graduating the program,” Cooper said. “Many of them earn advanced, nitrox, and rescue diver certifications through their tenure in the program, and they often graduate high school with more than 100 lifetime dives.”
To get started, all youth need is an interest in the ocean and diving along with their passion and a willingness to actively participate. Local or regional meetings are held once a month and are open to visitors. A parent or adult accompanies every Naut in the classroom and while diving, allowing them to strengthen their relationships by connecting over a shared interest and experience.
SNI continues to increase opportunities for young explorers and future leaders in the dive industry by establishing new chapters nationally and internationally. If there is not an existing SCUBAnauts gathering in your area, email for more information about the safety and certification requirements for establishing your own local chapter. AD
© Alert Diver — Q4 2023