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Students dive into adventure

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To say that John Paul Skinner is immersed in his work would be an understatement.

He is passionate about swimming, surfing, diving and pretty much “everything to do with the ocean”. Since 2001 he has been trying to get young people to feel the same through Waterstart.

The programme gives young people knowledge of Bermuda's marine environment while introducing them to activities such as scuba diving, boating, snorkelling and kayaking.

The weeklong programmes are aimed at children from the age of 12; university-aged interns are involved in hands-on research and environmental restoration work with the aim of making them feel responsible for the safekeeping of the sea.

“Bermuda provides us with an incredible natural classroom and playground,” said Mr Skinner, who has degrees in anthropology and education.

“I spent several years as an indoor classroom teacher but always wanted to spend my life teaching outdoors and sharing my passion for the ocean.

“After a week sharing the challenge, fun and camaraderie of a Waterstart programme, and after first-hand experience exploring the beautiful marine world, students often become passionate advocates for the ocean.

“My favourite part usually comes towards the end of a week, when we are driving our boat back towards the island from an offshore dive trip. Typically, by Friday, this group of students who were quiet and nervous and shy on Monday are now great friends. They break down their dive gear like pros, share snacks and stories, chat and laugh, and generally act like they are veterans of the open ocean — real old sea salts.

“Barriers between cliques, school groups and backgrounds are forgotten and there is a collective pride in having risen to the dive or research challenge of the day.

“It is inspirational and gives great hope for the future.”

Mr Skinner launched Waterstart after a trip to the Catalina Island Marine Institute in California which opened his eyes to the possibility of local marine experiential education.

In 2003, he accepted the position of education officer at the Bermuda Ocean Sciences Institute and merged Waterstart into the local education outreach there. He spent many years at BIOS as director of ocean academy, the umbrella programme encompassing all local outreach.

In 2017, inspired by the “fully-immersive” model of The Island School in Cape Eleuthera, Bahamas, he transformed Waterstart into an independent programme and began making plans for a fully sustainable marine education centre.

The initiative immerses students in the real-world challenge of sustainability.

“We use our island campus and its surrounding water as a classroom and challenge our students to help tackle global environmental issues on a tangible, real-world level,” Mr Skinner explained.

“Projects this year have included an off-grid water pressure system for a saltwater aquarium, a seagrass monitoring and restoration study and a survey of the invertebrates found around Burt Island. We are proud to report that, over the years, the majority of our staff and interns are also alumni of Waterstart programmes.”

Mr Skinner believes that Bermuda has great potential as a destination focusing on this area.

“Thanks to its geographic location, its maritime legacy and a wealth of established research institutions, Bermuda has the potential to be the global leader in ocean education.

“Local teenagers have numerous opportunities to pursue exciting, marine-focused education and career options. In order to capitalise on these opportunities, however, many students need support. Waterstart aims to be Bermuda's ‘student hub' for marine education and provide this necessary support.”

Such assistance comes in the form of island-wide recruitment and engagement in marine programmes, Scuba instruction, first aid and CPR certification, resume-building and practical skill development, scholarships and financial aid to ensure all interested students can take part.

Waterstart also offers a network of connections to “next step” opportunities including internships, volunteer placements and further education.

“Despite Bermuda's incredible location for marine study and recreation, only a small percentage of schoolchildren participate,” Mr Skinner said. “Waterstart was conceived and launched as a way to fill this niche and provide access and training for all local students.”

The next Waterstart programmes are due to take place this autumn. For more information visit waterstartbermuda.org.

JP Skinner (Photograph by Ben Von Wong)
JP Skinner (Photograph by Ben Von Wong)
JP Skinner's Waterstart programme (Photograph by Ben Von Wong)
JP Skinner's Waterstart programme (Photograph by Ben Von Wong)
JP Skinner's Waterstart programme (Photograph by Ben Von Wong)
JP Skinner's Waterstart programme (Photograph by Ben Von Wong)
Life aquatic: JP Skinner and the students on his Waterstart programme; the course gives young people an introduction to marine activities such as scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking
<p>What the kids thought of the course</p>

The way the instructor’s care has inspired me to care more about the environment and aquatic life as well as the people around me.


Activities such as identifying fish, studying different species of sea grass and helping out with the artificial reefs around Burt Island have left me with a much better understanding of underwater wildlife. Waterstart may seem like just a scuba-diving camp from the outside but if you actually participate you soon realise that Waterstart is also dedicated to the conservation of marine life in Bermuda.


The best thing I learnt here was scuba-diving in general, it was probably my best experience ever. Waterstart has helped me by teaching me something new every day. I’ve come to Waterstart again because it is helping achieve my goal of becoming a marine biologist.


Waterstart has taught me skills that have opened the door to incredible things, things I could never have had any hope of doing otherwise. Diving is now a cherished activity of mine, allowing me to explore and witness first hand the splendour of the undersea world without needing to rely on the diluting lens of recordings and copies. Nothing can compete with the real thing, and I thank Waterstart for helping me see enough to realise it.


I have always loved the ocean. Waterstart has given me not only the opportunity and skills to explore these amazing places but also the chance to learn how to protect and preserve marine life for future generations. Conservation is essential in Bermuda at this time and Waterstart aims to teach the next generation how to create a sustainable environment.


I am in Year 2 of high school currently and when I finish, I hope to travel to Florida University to earn a degree in marine biology and what better way to prepare myself than Waterstart. As fun as scuba diving is, the challenges are rough but my instructors have never given up on me as they want me to be as successful as I wish to be, which is why I show up every year.


Waterstart is an incredible programme that gives kids so many new and life-changing opportunities.


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Published August 30, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated August 30, 2019 at 1:32 pm)

Students dive into adventure

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