Students relish North Rock adventure
“Sharks, just look out for sharks when you're out there.”
They may have been just winding each other up, but the ten students from the Impact Mentoring School entered the waters off North Rock with a grain or two of nervous energy.
Not because of the sharks, because there weren't any, but because for some it was the first time they had ever visited North Rock.
And none, even the three teachers that accompanied them, had ever given the sport of freediving a go.
But they all did, some even reached the 35ft marker and enjoyed an experience they'll remember for the rest of their life; all thanks to the Bermuda Zoological Society's Kids on the Reef programme.
Thousands of secondary public school students have already gone through a two-day educational programme that culminates in a trip to North Rock and a chance to freedive and swim alongside parrot fish and stunning coral reefs.
“I'd never been to North Rock before,” said 15-year-old Maasai Wilson. “But it is breathtakingly beautiful, and I even saw a barracuda.
“I'd never freedived before today either so I was pretty pleased to get almost to the bottom of the line. We learnt a lot about the techniques for breathing, which was a tough skill to master.”
Antonio Carvelho added: “This has been a whole new experience for me; I've never been out here before.
“I was nervous at first, but when we got out there and warmed up, it got really decent. Freediving is a hard skill, but I made it down to the bottom despite all the pressure I was feeling on my ears.
“It's been like a life lesson. The best bit was getting out on the water today, I've enjoyed it very much.”
Last spring, scores of middle school pupils took part in the XL Catlin-sponsored Kids on the Reef Programme, while in the autumn the BZS project was rolled out again with the help of the Neil Burnie Foundation.
The Neil Burnie Foundation still provides the fall funding, while XL Catlin had also continued its support of the initiative.
A group of middle school pupils from Impact Mentoring completed the two-day course last month, while the high school students headed out to North Rock on Wednesday.
They were joined by Dr Alex Amat, the BZS youth programme co-ordinator, who organises the project, and South African freediver Beth Neale who provided tuition on the sport.
Impact Mentoring's director of academics Raj Goodewardener told The Royal Gazette: “This is the first year that we were asked by BZS to take part in Kids on the Reef and we jumped at the opportunity.
“It has been a fantastic experience for the boys. It's not all about academics, boys especially need hands-on, relevant experiences outside the classroom to help them learn.
“With the Kids on the Reef programme, they can take an experience away that they'll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Student Stephan Paynter, 17, added: “I just loved being in the ocean. I hate being stuck in the classroom, so this has been great.”