August 14, 2019

Contributed
Big Torch Key's DiveN2Life program teaches students to become scientific scuba divers. Above, volunteer educator Nicole Charnock is pictured with STEM students Kara, 13, and Emma, 11.

Contributed Big Torch Key's DiveN2Life program teaches students to become scientific scuba divers. Above, volunteer educator Nicole Charnock is pictured with STEM students Kara, 13, and Emma, 11.

BIG TORCH KEY — DiveN2Life is an extracurricular scuba dive research program for highly motivated students looking to immerse themselves in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning.

The hands-on, place-based program is designed to encourage students to think critically and creatively solve problems facing the Florida Keys’ sensitive ecology.

Contributed
A DiveN2Life educator and student examine a lionfish spike during a classroom lesson.

“We have courses, field work and workshops with not only scientific partners in the community, but throughout the state,” said Kama Cannon, the nonprofit organization’s director of education and diving safety officer. “We work collaboratively with Mote Marine and Looe Key Reef here locally.”

Students hone their field work skills on buoyancy during the first six months. Once that is mastered, their focus then shifts to scientific diving.

As opposed to recreational diving, scientific diving involves a pursuit of knowledge underwater.

“This is scuba diving with a purpose. There’s always an academic or research-based reason we are diving. It’s to make observation or learn skills,” Cannon said. “This isn’t a dive club.”

The students share their research and advocate for environmental action and cultural heritage at the county, state level and national level, according to Cannon.

DiveN2Life is highly focused on coral restoration initiatives and is looking for ways to combat the stony coral tissue loss disease and other diseases plaguing the Florida Reef Tract.

Students are also tasked with seagrass bed restoration projects, documenting underwater heritage sites and collaborating with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials to promote and protect natural and cultural landscapes and seascapes.

Local experts often mentor students using the latest scientific tools and technologies, including such computer applications as side scan sonar, GIS and Hypack.

“It’s challenging to keep kids interested, but our program has been proven to work since we started two years ago,” Cannon said. “We take them locally, regionally and even internationally. In the last year, we went to three different countries doing service projects.”

DiveN2Life offers fall, spring and summer terms. The fall term begins after Labor Day and is currently looking to team up with a school classroom. The program is offered to students ages 8 and older and to teachers.

During the fall and spring terms, students meet Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The application process requires a cover letter, student’s transcripts, resume if age-appropriate and teacher references. Students must be medically cleared as well.

A review council comprised of past DiveN2Life students and staff then meets with prospective students and their parents. A decision is made shortly thereafter.

The registration and tuition fees are $500 in total, and students must partake in fundraising activities.

Cannon said the nonprofit program has been successful in receiving an annual dollar match grant of $54,000 to supplement the $100,000-plus operational costs.

DiveN2Life is located at 4670 Dorn Road on Big Torch Key. For more information, visit diven2life.org, email info@diven2life.org or find them on Facebook.

tjava@keysnews.com