A team of UK Armed Forces veterans is launching a project to ‘give back’ to the marine environment that they credit with turning their lives around.
The 30 wounded in service veterans, all suffering from life changing physical and / or mental injuries, are Programme Members of scuba diving rehabilitation charity Deptherapy.
The aim of the ‘Protecting Our Oceans’project is to raise awareness of the fragility of the world’s oceans and for each Deptherapy Programme Member to make their own practical contribution to environmental protection to help safeguard the future.
The project comes at a time when the world’s attention is increasingly focused on environmental sustainability, the scourge of plastic pollution and the health of the planet. 2018 has been designated the Third International Year of the Reef (IYOR 2018).
Deptherapy Ambassador and former Royal Engineer Ben Lee, who lost both legs and sustained other injuries in an IED explosion in Afghanistan is leading the ‘Protecting Our Oceans’project. Ben is currently training to be a Divemaster and recently won the Royal Foundation’s Endeavour Fund ‘Recognising Achievement’ Award.
On his motivation to lead the project, Ben Lee said:
“The Red Sea and Deptherapy changed my life forever. If I could, I would live underwater – the tranquility, the beauty, it just blows your mind. You feel at one with nature.
I want to help teach my son to dive. I want him to enjoy the oceans, but we are killing our seas; global warming, pollution, over fishing and plastic waste are destroying our reefs and our aquatic life.
These are our oceans, and as surely as we fought for our Country, we must now, as that same ‘Band of Brothers,’ fight to save our oceans. We stood to arms in Afghan or Iraq, we now stand to arms, united in our determination to fight for the future of our oceans.”
Deptherapy’s next dive training programme, which takes place from 17th to 24th May at Roots Red Sea in Egypt, marks the start of the ‘Protecting Our Oceans’ project.
Tom Dallison, Head of Science at Coral Cay Conservation, will accompany the programme and lead six Deptherapy team members on a coral reef surveying and conservation course. The five day course will develop skills in underwater environmental survey techniques and species identification, in order to prepare the divers for an expedition to Truk Lagoon later this year.
Part of the Roots Red Sea programme and all of the Truk expedition are funded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s 2016 Libor Fund.
On the Truk expedition in August, the Deptherapy team will independently map the health of the marine life on the wreck of the former Naval Tanker, the Shinkoku Maru, and produce a detailed report of their findings.
Tom Dallison explained more about the project:
“Deptherapy does magnificent work, offering incredible opportunities to injured veterans. I am honoured to have this chance to facilitate their efforts whilst incorporating my own passion into their cause – the conservation of our ocean’s fauna and flora.
Working closely with a team during the Roots expedition, we will, collectively, develop a deep understanding of the marine life in the Red Sea, delving into the ecology and behaviour of marine organisms, whilst focusing on the current impacts faced by coral reefs and the methods used to monitor their health.
By building an affinity to the marine world, Deptherapy will boast six newly trained conservation-advocates for their Truk Lagoon expedition and future programmes.”
During the Roots trip, all Programme Members will also take part in a ‘Dive Against Debris’ underwater and beach clean up. Several Members have also volunteered to give environmental presentations to the rest of the team.
Long time partner of the Deptherapy charity, PADI are fully supporting the ‘Protecting Our Oceans’ project. Two of PADI’s Pillars of Change focus on People & Community and Healing & Wellness, making Deptherapy the perfect charity for PADI to support.
Emma Hewitt, PADI Regional Manager UK South & Ireland, explained:
“Deptherapy has demonstrated that by adapting teaching techniques, those with perceived limitations can overcome them and become scuba divers. The PADI Adaptive Techniques program has been designed using these same techniques.
PADI is proud to partner Deptherapy and is committed to helping to bring more troops through their programmes in the years ahead.”
PADI will also be supporting this project through its own Project AWARE® Foundation.
PADI Regional Manager for Egypt, Ahmed Sayed said:
“When ocean health is combined with the health of those within Deptherapy’s program it is all the more powerful. Project AWARE is grateful for all the support Deptherapy gives. It is fantastic to see two charities working together for the good of so many and I am honoured that Egypt will host the first stage of this project.”
As well as PADI and Coral Cay Conservation, a division of the Lifesigns Group founded by Deptherapy Patron Alistair Cole, the ‘Protecting Our Oceans’project has the support of many other key individuals and organisations within the scuba diving community.
Patrons of Deptherapy Paul Rose and Andy Torbet have both pledged their support for the project, whilst David Jones, Founder of environmental organisation Just One Ocean, has come onboard as a Technical Advisor.
On working with Deptherapy and this project, Andy Torbet said:
“In 2018 plastic pollution, especially that in our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes has become front page news. This is great for those of us working on these problems for years. As divers, we have seen the plastic detritus and damage it causes first-hand and often out of sight of those who do not venture beneath the surface of the ocean.
When asked to describe myself, I always say Diver and Ex-Soldier. Deptherapy touches on both these passions as it uses one to help the other. Diving, along with the hard work of the volunteers that run the charity, and those involved in the programmes, have proved miraculous in helping individuals with very serious physical and mental injuries. It is not hyperbole to say it has saved people’s lives.
As the Deptherapy programmes continue to help those with massive, life altering injuries or serious mental health issues, those within the problem are trying to give back to the environment that has helped them – our oceans. The majority of the Deptherapy veterans feel the underwater world saved them, now it’s time for some payback.”