Now that my time here as an intern is coming to a close I am reflecting on my experiences and the memories that I will take away. Before coming to Santa Catalina I did not have much diving experience, having dived only to Open Water level in Malaysia. I thought it would be cool to get the chance to do some diving again, but I have to say that my time here has really made me fall in love with experiencing the underwater world and I am desperate to continue!

Every day in Coiba has been special. Even the days when we haven’t had our most spectacular dives you can’t help but be in awe of the park and the diversity of life in the water. And then you get those days that really are extraordinary, when the park is bursting with life and it feels like everywhere you look there is something special to see! My best day of diving happened on our instructor Kat’s birthday when our first two dives were full of big, big schools and turtles, and we shared the last dive with 2 beautiful whale sharks. Since I have been here I have been incredibly lucky enough to see whale sharks, manta rays, giant schools of sting rays and hammerhead sharks among countless other amazing things!

I also, on the encouragement of Sabina, have gotten into making and editing videos from my dives – something I really enjoy doing! This and all the diving experience are skills I am so glad to have gained from my time here.

I am very thankful for the opportunity that PDC has given me to be able to do this, and for all the special people I have shared my time with (particular shout out to my fellow interns / house mates!). PDC it has truly been a pleasure.

Esme

Rubbish is a big problem here in Santa Catalina. Sadly it is certainly not an exception in Central America, or anywhere else for that matter. Walking down the stunning Santa Catalina coastline you can’t help but notice all the old discarded ‘stuff’ littering the way. Naturally as our home we want to keep the beaches here beautiful, something we can enjoy and be proud of. Here at Panama Dive Centre we are organizing twice monthly beach cleanups to do our part for cleaning up our coastline. However there are much more significant reasons for our beach cleans than simply aesthetic reasons. Littering is a global crisis, but why is it so important to prevent its spread along our coast and beaches?

“An estimated 5-13 million tons of plastic enter our oceans each year from land-based sources” – That’s similar to emptying a garbage truck of plastic into an ocean every minute.

Rubbish is having a devastating effect on marine ecosystems across the world. Approximately 100,000 marine creatures are killed per year just from plastic entanglement – and this is only a figure for those that are found. Ingestion is another matter, over 70% of deep sea fish were found to have ingested plastic in a recent study. We know that plastic takes many years to break down – but even when it does it turns into microplastics and toxic chemicals, which continue to effect the health of marine animals.

“There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way”

This also affects us here on land. For animals that feed on fish (humans included!) not only are waning populations and near extinctions a threat for food security, but we are also ingesting the same toxic chemicals and microplastics harbored by the fish that we eat! Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium estimated that top shellfish eaters in Europe are consuming up to 11,000 pieces of micro plastic in their seafood each year.

“Projections indicate that by 2050, the ration of fish to plastics could be 1:1”

What can we do to end the cycle and help cure our oceans? Every small action counts. It has been estimated that Americans go through about 100 billion plastic bags a year (around 360 bags per person) so just bringing your own bags to the supermarket is a great place to start. Arranging or getting involved in beach cleans like we do here at Panama Dive Center is also a great way to help. Small actions add up! The more people that are willing to make that little extra effort can really make the difference.


For more about rubbish in Santa Catalina and our beach cleaning efforts see the blog of one of our recent participants: www.liveandletgo.org !

-By Esme

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/19/more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-sea-by-2050-warns-ellen-macarthur

http://naturalsociety.com/un-urges-action-microplastics-ocean-outnumber-stars-1343/

http://www.beachapedia.org/Plastic_Pollution_Facts_and_Figures

A month ago, I got certified PADI Open Water. It was an amazing experience that I never thought I would live. Indeed, before coming to do my internship in Panama Dive Center, I’ve always admired the people who dive and thus who have the opportunity to swim in the middle of the marine wildlife. But, since I didn’t know any diver before, for me it was something unreal that you see only on TV and that I would never do. I hadn’t even thought about trying it! And one day I saw an advert for an internship at Panama Dive Center and I told myself, after all, why not? So I applied and surprisingly they hired me!

Of course, I had a few worries before starting my course. First of all, my grand parents being from a family of fishermen in the North of France, I have been raised with the idea that the ocean can be dangerous and one should always be careful. Moreover, when I was younger, I have always been afraid to find myself in a space as huge as the ocean. And finally I get seasick pretty easily…

For seasickness, the problem was quickly solved thanks to dramamine pills. And for the rest, I decided not to think about it and once under water, all those fears disapeared! And it was an awesome experience. Of course, I had to start with exercices under water, like taking off my mask and put it back which was not the easiest but the sensation to be able to breath under water and stay on the bottom in the middle of all the marine wildlife was exceptional! And I am now addicted to it and it’s with pleasure that I go diving every week in the beautiful Coiba National Park!

Thank you to my great instuctor Sofie and all the team of Panama Dive Center for making it possible!
As a conclusion, I recommend to everybody to try diving, even those who like me, never really thought about it!

-By Adèle

Mid April 2017 we took some days off to go on a long planned staff trip to Coiba National Park. Two days of incredible diving at spots that are too far to reach on daytrips and one night on Coiba Island with delicious food, lots of beer, wine and good company were a well-deserved end of the high season in Panama.

We left Santa Catalina on the 21st of April around 9am. But, as the ones of you who have dived with Panama Dive Center will remember, nobody leaves Catalina without having had his coffee in the morning. On two boats, Aracelli and Yuri, with our two captains Rubén and Eddie and the helping hands of our assistants Jorge and Solin, twelve enthusiastic divers took off to Coiba.

After a two-hour bumpy boat ride we arrived in Contreras, one of the most beautiful spots for diving in the national park, north of Coiba island. The dive sites Montaña Rusa and Sueño de Pescador are known to be full of life – big schools of snappers and jacks, frogfish and White tip reef sharks are seen frequently. Apart from spotted eagle rays and pelagic sting rays our favorite visitor, however, was a hammerhead, passing by at Sueño de Pescador, not noticing a bunch of amazed creatures with big tanks on their backs observing him.

On Coiba Island, after organizing rooms, a lovely lunch and a small hike on the island our „Divemasters in Training“ had to do their night dive. When the sun went down, four of us, equipped with flashlights, took the boat to a spot very close to the main island and explored the beauty of Coiba’s underwater world at night. We loved it, our captain and assistant did not. „Why can’t you dive during the day?!“, was Eddie´s complain, imagining ankering the boat and swimming back to the island in the dark, the time when island-crocodile Tito and his friends visit the beaches. But observing the creatures underwater during their „nightly“ routines was, at least for the four of us – one of the highlights of the trip and, in the end, nobody was eaten by a crocodile. A delicious dinner, a couple of beers and glasses of wine were the perfect end to an incredible day of diving.

The next day we took off to Isla Jicarón, one of the southern parts of Coiba National Park and very particular. To a lot of us, due to its location far off Santa Catalina, the dive sites were new, which was why everybody was quite excited about the upcoming dives.

The dive sites ‚La Catedral‘, in English ‚The Cathedral‘, and ‚La Lavadora‘, ‚The Washing Machine‘, are known for strong currents and spectacular formations of volcanic rock. They are located right next to each other and, as you might have imagined already, the strong currents underwater made us drift dive and spin around like in a washing machine; a lot of fun.

With these last dives and a long boat ride back to Santa Catalina our staff trip came to an end. We enjoyed every moment to the fullest. Thanks to everyone who joined and made it an amazing experience.