I can scarcely recall being more excited about anything in the last decade. Going to Timor-Leste as a marine conservation volunteer, and training to become a Divemaster, what an adventure!
I was Advanced Open Water certified already, with 14 dives under my belt, but it had been 10 years since my last dive course, so I was a little bit nervous too!
Preparing for Timor-Leste was an adventure of its own. In addition to all the essential items in the expedition kit list, I needed the correct dive manuals for the PADI Emergency First Responder, PADI Rescue Diver and PADI Divemaster courses.
Blue Ventures put me in contact with Laura, the Expedition and Dive Manager, who was going to teach me, and we discussed how to approach the learning and organise our time. Before I knew it, I found myself on a plane to the heart of the Coral Triangle…
After arriving in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, we travelled by boat to the village of Beloi on Atauro Island – Blue Ventures’ expedition base! We were all amazed at how beautiful our new surroundings were, especially Barry’s Place, the eco-lodge where we would be staying for the first few weeks of the expedition.
In order to have the time to finish my Divemaster course, and contribute to the Blue Ventures’ conservation aims, I would be staying in Timor-Leste for 12 weeks, joining two consecutive marine conservation expeditions.
The first 6 weeks were fun, excitement-filled and chock-a-block with lectures, learning and practicing. I felt my scuba diving proficiency skyrocket as I went from 14 dives to 40 in what felt like no time. I felt my underwater awareness growing as I progressed through the Rescue Diver course, and I learnt a huge amount from watching Laura, my instructor and mentor.
As well as the Rescue Diver training, I was learning to survey Atauro’s coral reefs, an experience which made me feel like a crucial part of the Blue Ventures team, and I was making friends and making the most of island life!
The next 6 weeks were more of a challenge, as the material for the Divemaster course was much harder. I felt increased pressure and responsibility, but it was definitely worthwhile. We frequented so many beautiful dive sites, but diving was no longer just about enjoying all the Coral Triangle had to offer, but about adjusting my attitude towards being responsible, safe, and aware.
Two of Blue Ventures expeditions’ staff, Amos and Mima, were also training to be divemasters, so we did a lot of studying and training together. The course taught us how to avoid and assist in potentially dangerous scenarios, and we practiced our learning in one-on-one sessions or role-plays where one of us would play the part of a diver in need or a beginner diver. Practicing these emergency scenarios was adrenaline-fueled and made to mimic the real thing. Even as a test, it wasn’t an easy situation to be in and I had to apply myself to the task at hand. Luckily Amos would keep us smiling and laughing even through the tougher scenarios, and it felt wonderful to be part of such a lovely team.
I also learnt how to shore marshal and boat marshal, tasks where you’re not scuba diving, but acting instead as a responsible communicator on the boat or back at camp.
Finally, keeping up our swim fitness was tough, but crucial to the training. We swam 100, 200, 400 and 800 Metres as fast as we could with, and without gear. We would then swim without fins pulling another team members behind us, as would be required in a rescue event.
For me, observing my mentor Laura was the single most effective way of understanding and knowing what it meant to be a divemaster. I would often ask her how she had come to a decision about when and where we would dive, and we would discuss the important aspects she had taken into account. Weather, wind and currents can drastically change the course of a dive, so observing comprehensive dive protocols and changing plans when necessary is vital. In the end, Mother Nature is in charge.
Towards the end of the course, I was helping with many of the expedition’s dive duties and preparation for the daily dives. Whilst becoming a divemaster is challenging, in more ways than I’d expected, it’s all necessary because you have to be good in the water if you’re to be a good role model for others.
You have to be good in the water if you’re to be a good role model for others
By the end of my time in Timor-Leste I was leading my own dives, and I felt confident that I had become a good role model. I was thrilled at how far I’d come in such a short time! In just three months I had increased my logged dives to almost 100, successfully become a Divemaster, and formed unforgettable bonds with my mentor, my fellow divemasters and like-minded volunteers from all over the world. I’m not sure what could be better!
*Note – We are not currently offering the divemaster course in Timor-Leste but are seeking candidates to undertake the course on our Madagascar and Belize expedition. (Limited number of places and dates)