Louise Thomas

As someone who is attempting to swim so hard I become a fish, my inner eagle ray is belly-flopping for joy at the opportunity to enter UDC’s competition to become a PADI instructor. I have been watching Andy’s instructional YouTube videos since the start of my dive journey and would love to train and dive with his team.

In 2018, I sold my stuff, left my rented home in Bristol and went to Puerto Rico to help with the relief effort after Hurricane Maria; sleeping on a mattress on the floor with 80 dogs and one kitten as a live-in volunteer for Amigos de los Animales to help to re-socialise dogs abandoned or born into the shelter after the hurricane. Over the next five months, I went on to help a guesthouse, hostel and tour company reopen for business; help locals rebuild and redecorate their homes; and help to remove hurricane and fishing debris caught in the mangrove ecosystems. But Puerto Rico gave me the biggest gift by helping me to reconnect with the sea; allowing me to swim alongside eagle rays as they glided effortlessly over swaying sea fans; catch nurse sharks napping in the shade of boulders dropped into the water by Spanish conquistadors over seven centuries ago and watch turtles kiss the turquoise waters as they dove back down on one breath.

But a few words can change a life, “I’m leaving; the reefs make me sad.” A friend on the island decided to cut short her time after seeing the damage caused to the reefs from the hurricane. I couldn’t understand why someone would chose to leave and not help, so I stayed; accepting a job as a tour guide for snorkel and kayak tours and began sharing my passion for the ocean with visitors to the island.

In April 2019, my travels took me to Colombia where I took part in coral spawning surveys after meeting a marine researcher in Isla Grande whilst volunteering in an eco-hotel to explore different ways of reusing ocean waste – particularly plastics. My miles of swimming now had purpose, but it was another chance encounter with a hotel guest that bought me to diving, which felt more natural to me than walking. I went on to complete my PADI Dive Against Debris course in San Andres, Colombia before my Rescue Diver and Nitrox courses with Cortez Expeditions in Mexico; and then the PADI Manta Ray Conservation course in Kona, Hawaii; before returning to Puerto Rico to undertake my Divemaster training with Isla Neña Scuba in Vieques.

In February of this year, I began a one-month intern program with the Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center on the island of Utila to understand how I can channel my passion as diver to help protect our oceans. The course includes fish ID, coral conservation and restoration, mangrove restoration, whale shark monitoring and lionfish containment.

How I’m being the difference?

How i´m being different?

I’m hoping as fellow dive professionals, you will understand when I say ‘the water is my home’. It’s not just my workplace: it is a place of play, escape, adventure and healing. I have dragged myself in wearily limbed to soothe burning fevers; long swims clear my mind of ex-boyfriends; and freediving with eagle rays quickly lift my mood. I have discovered underwater worlds unseen that change can change with the wind and enjoy pushing myself physically in the pursuit of exploration. When I’m on land to refuel or driven out of the water by bad weather, I am listening to diving podcasts, watching YouTube videos on fish behaviour or reading about the culture of marine mammals. My will asks for my ashes to be spread into Vieques’ bioluminescent bay.

I have three goals for my diving career:

1. Build a coral reef. Perhaps more than one.
2. Volunteer for Sea Shepherd
3. Dive to my deepest limits

Therefore, it is in my interest to protect our ocean – and to recruit others to do the same. The secrets of the ocean lie under its surface. Its lure for me is also its weakness, because people don’t know what they can’t see. I believe that through real connection we can help people to understand their impact on the planet and I find that is most easily built through joy, passion, excitement and patience. So, to connect people with the water, we need to get people in the water but, as a tour guide, I have witnessed even seasoned swimmers, lane and lake lappers alike needing help to overcome a fear of the blue. By completing my IDC with Utila Dive Center I would like to share my love for the ocean but also pass on the skill and pleasure of diving to help people overcome their fear of the unknown and succeed and thrive in the underwater world.

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