I AM WATER is terribly excited to have Ellie Simmonds as an I AM WATER Ocean Ambassador! From the first time we met Ellie back in 2015 when Hanli taught Ellie freediving in Mozambique for an ITV Documentary, Dreaming of Dolphins, we knew we'd be friends! In 2016 Ellie joined the I AM WATER Ocean Travel team in Mexico, deepening her freediving skills with whale sharks, jack fish and sea lions and 2017 we had her for a whole month in South Africa! Seals, sharks, kids workshops, beach cleanups and more! We love Ellie's enthusiasm for the ocean, her super fun sense of humour, deep compassion for others and for conservation. We couldn't be more proud to have her on the team! Welcome Ellie, we love you!
Here is Ellie's blog from her month with us in South Africa:
'I truly believe that I am Water, scientists believe we are made of approximately 60%. I can fully confirm this. I am having a year off from the chlorinated type of water that I’m used to being in on a 24 hour basis, to getting enticed to the salty type. There is no rest, it keeps attracting me..!'
Our KwaZulu Mermaids Project started with a splash! At the end of last year, I AM WATER’s Ocean and Education Manager Beth Neale broke the South African Free immersion freediving record to fundraise for this project. The campaign was a huge success and thanks to the generosity of donors, we will be able to introduce young girls to the wonders of the ocean and give them a life changing experience...
I AM WATER's Beth Neale broke the South African Free Immersion Freediving Record this weekend - here's her story:
'I dived down into the beautiful big blue and surfaced a South African Freediving Record Holder. And then I did it again...'
An important part of what we do at I AM WATER is to give Ocean Education and Conservation Presentations to school children. The children are always inspired and astounded by what they learn and discover. I AM WATER's Beth Neale writes about the experience she had with a very special school, where giving a presentation transformed into an incredible ocean adventure!
As I AM WATER’s
Education and Outreach Manager, I have been giving many Ocean Education and Conservation Presentations at schools. I was extremely fortunate to give a talk at the most incredible school in Umlazi, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. I had no idea what a beautiful journey my talk would lead me on and that it would create a truly meaningful and lasting relationship with Muzomuhle Primary School.
I AM WATER global instructor Beth Neale was welcomed back to Bermuda to continue with the Kids on the Reef program, now in its 4th consecutive year. Working with Dr Alex Amat and the incredible team from the Bermuda Zoological Society, this programme was made possible by a generous donation from XLCatlin. The two day immersive program teaches and empowers Middle School Bermudians to appreciate and understand the blue underwater world that surrounds them.
In the month of May, we were able to introduce 83 Bermudian Middle School children to their salty blue backyard for the first time!
After a couple weeks of settling into Kalk Bay, getting acquainted with the locals, taking quick dips at the beach, and staring longingly out at the sea while working in the Ocean Deck and Shop, I was finally able to go for my first dive in False Bay along with preparation for the first youth workshop I would get to help out with.
Friends of Peter and Hanli and local brothers in Kalk Bay, Zack, Alex, and Sebastian, have a unique relationship with some of the kids who live in the fisherman's flats of the village. Their relationship is the kind of stuff people make heartwarming documentaries out of. The story goes that through skateboarding, Zack started getting to know a few of these young boys, and slowly they would join him and his brothers to go bodyboarding on the reef nearby. By pooling money and donations from some friends, eventually Zack was able to get wetsuits and boards for the boys, all previously used, mismatched, and ill-fitting. But enough to get them in the water. Some of the boys didn’t even know how to swim before they met the Verlaque-Napper brothers, and now you see them jogging down main road in a pack, wetsuits on and boards in tow, headed for the surf. They’re an adorable modern-day version of Peter and the Lost Boys meets bodyboarding.
I don’t think I truly arrived in Kalk Bay until I decided to go hiking in the mountains. I started out on the wrong trail, lost sight of the path three times as I tried to scramble up the rocky mountainside, and had to take some deep breaths as I half-rock-climbed to finally arrive at the mouth of a cave. And from that moment I was in love.
It was so beautifully quiet up there, alone with the wind. I sat for a while and could feel the power of the energy emanating from those regal pillars of rock. When my whole body felt filled up with an immensely humbling awe, I gleefully hopped back down the mountain, and when I got to the bottom I felt much more acquainted with my current place in this world.
My arrival in Kalk Bay was dark and bleary-eyed, exhausted after two full days of traveling from O‘ahu, Hawaii to finally land in Cape Town.
I looked out the window at all the quiet and empty closed-up shops as my cab pulled up to the curb on Main Road near midnight. A polite boy on the sidewalk helped me lug my heavy suitcases up to the flat I’d be staying in for the next seven weeks during my internship with the I AM WATER Foundation, and then I was asleep.
John was so excited to look underwater for the first time that he forgot to put his mask on! John is a Grade 7 learner from Qongwana Primary School and he participated in our Sodwana School Sea Safari programme where he learnt about the importance of protecting the ocean and was able to experience the world beneath the waves for the first time.
The first ever I AM WATER Sodwana School Sea Safari was a huge success! As a world famous diving location, Sodwana on South Africa’s east coast, is a very significant place for I AM WATER. While people come from all over the world to experience Sodwana's pristine beaches, coral reefs and marine life, the majority of the local community have never had the opportunity to learn about and experience the ocean firsthand. Connecting local children to their own ocean heritage through programmes like the Sodwana School Sea Safari, we are starting to change that!
Thanks to a very kind donation from the Dubai British School and working together with Wildlife and Ecological Investments as well as extremely helpful volunteers, we ran three two day Ocean Education and Experience workshops for over 40 Grade 7 learners from Qongwana Primary School.
Each workshop consisted of an ocean education presentation, fun stretches and games, an ocean themed sand building competition and, of course, learning how to use a mask and snorkel to be able to safely explore the underwater world in tidal rock pools.
We were fortunate to have many volunteers assisting us and Mary Basson from Ezemvelo KZN wildlife treated the children to a very informative presentation about the importance of protecting the Sodwana turtle population and she also kindly assisted with ensuring that we had enough sets of snorkels and masks for both the children and the volunteers.
As with all of our Outreach Programmes, we can see the children's passion for and understanding of the ocean grow the longer they are able to spend in the water. There is no doubt that it is a very powerful transformative experience for the children and it is also very encouraging to see more previously disadvantaged South Africans working in Sodwana as Scuba Instructors, Skippers and Dive Masters.
The hope is that the children that we inspire through our programmes will one day grow up to be ocean conservation ambassadors.
Diana Garcia-Benito, I AM WATER’s newest team member and only Spanish speaker, shares her experience of our two weeks in Ecuador.
Diana joined us on our exclusive freediving course with Dr. Andrea Marshall and the Marine Megafauna Foundation spending time with the giant mantas of Isla de la Plata. Our second week the I AM WATER / MMF team ran four ocean workshops with local kids. It was the first time we ran our program in Spanish, and Diana’s enthusiasm, knowledge and bilingual skills were invaluable, we are excited to have her on the team.
Read more about Diana on
our TEAM PAGE here
There's nothing like experiencing a new and unique sensation, especially if it’s amazing! Doing the freediving course had a very positive effect on me; it teaches you to recognize your limits, to exceed, it is physically challenging but never thought that the mind is stronger in this case. When you freedive you feel like just another animal in the ocean and animals around you do not feel uncomfortable with you, it is a very beautiful experience, a deeper connection to the marine environment and its inhabitants.
It was a powerful week with beautiful people, spectacular marine life, new knowledge, new feelings… absolute happiness.
Diving with giant manta rays was something very special: liberty, calm, beauty, aquatic dance, direct contact with them ... very hard to explain with words. It is a privilege to have been in such a unique place, Isla de La Plata in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, is where the manta rays congregate in cleaning stations, humpback whales are around and their songs delight us and you feel that sound vibrating inside your body, dozens turtles everywhere, sea lions, a big variety of fish and corals, just fantastic!
The second stage of this wonderful trip was to be part of the I AM WATER work giving local children a chance to meet their amazing blue backyard, overcome their fears about the great ocean, environmental education, learn to swim and snorkel, have a different connection with the ocean, love and respect the wonders of the big blue, yoga, be conscious of their breathing .... It was something that fulfils my soul, pure happiness when you create an immediate impact on people and especially in kids.
Children are the key to the future and today it is necessary to make a drastic change to the way we see and treat the ocean, so be part of this organization whose main objective is that exactly, is a great honour and creates the path for that goal in my life.
The impression that you leave in these kids is something that will change their lives and certainly changed mine, their expressions, at first some of them were afraid to snorkel even to get in the water, once they past those barriers they enjoyed and were impressed and excited of what was underwater and realized that they can do all this simply by holding their breath and submerge their selves in the water.
Expanding the love, respect, protection and conservation of the ocean is, has been and will be my goal in life and I can do it thanks to I AM WATER. Gracias!
No hay como experimentar una sensación nueva
y única, aún mas si la experiencia es increíble. Hacer el curso de apnea ha
tenido un gran efecto positivo en mi, te ensena a reconocer tus limites,
físicamente es un reto pero nunca pensé
que es mas fuerte la mente en este caso. Al hacer apnea te sientes como otro
animal mas en el océano y los animales a tu alrededor no se sienten incomodos
contigo, es una experiencia muy bella, una conexión profunda con el medio marino
y sus habitantes.
Fue una semana intensa con hermosas personas, fauna marina espectacular, conocimientos nuevos, sensaciones nuevas, felicidad absoluta.
Sumergirse con las manta rayas gigantes fue algo muy especial: libertad, calma, belleza, danza acuática, contacto directo con ellas… muy difícil de explicar con palabras. Es un privilegio haber estado en un sitio tan exclusivo, La Isla de La Plata en Puerto López, Ecuador, es donde se congregan las manta rayas gigantes en estaciones de limpieza, las ballenas jorobadas están alrededor y sus cantos nos deleitan y se siente el sonido dentro de tu cuerpo, las tortugas por docenas en todas partes, lobos marinos, gran variedad de peces y corales, simplemente fantástico!
La segunda etapa de este maravilloso viaje fue poder ser parte de I am Water, dar a niños locales la oportunidad de conocer su jardín azul, superar sus miedos sobre el gran océano, enseñarles educación ambiental, aprender a nadar y a hacer snorkel, tener una conexión diferente con el océano, amar y respetar las maravillas que tienen a su alrededor, yoga, ser conscientes de su respiración…. Fue algo que llenó mi alma, una felicidad pura cuando creas un impacto inmediato en personas y sobretodo en niños.
Los niños son la clave del futuro y hoy en día es necesario hacer un cambio drástico sobre la manera en que observamos y tratamos al océano, por eso ser parte de esta organización cuyo objetivo principal es eso exactamente, es un gran honor y crea una nueva meta en mi vida.
La impresión que dejas en esos niños es algo que cambiara sus vidas y sin duda cambiaron la mía, la expresiones, como al principio tenían miedo a sumergirse inclusive a meterse en el agua, una vez pasado esas barreras disfrutaron y se quedaron impresionados sobre lo que existe debajo del agua y darse cuenta que pueden divertirse con todo ello simplemente aguantando su respiración y sumergirse en el agua.
Expandir el amor, respeto, protección y conservación del el océano es, ha sido y será mi meta en la vida y puedo lograrlo gracias a I AM WATER Ocean Conservation Foundation. Gracias!
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The I AM WATER Team is excited to be growing the diversity of ocean interactions that we offer children and adults.
addition to the Outreach Programmes that we run with schools in Bermuda,
Mozambique and South Africa, I AM WATER is also offering ocean experiences to individuals
who will greatly benefit from developing their existing knowledge, experience
and expertise of the ocean. This is hugely beneficial for these groups, as they
are familiar with the water and know how to swim, but they have never had the
opportunity to use a mask and a snorkel, take a big breath, dive down and
explore below the surface of the water. Simultaneously we are building a
support base where these local ocean users can join the I AM WATER Team on
Outreach Programmes and assist us in teaching underprivileged children to swim
One of I AM WATER’s first commitments is to Surfers Not Street Children in Durban, South Africa. Surfers Not Street Children (SNSC) is an empowerment project for ex street children entering adulthood in Durban, South Africa. They surf as a way to make a break from life on the streets and the ocean is obviously a crucial part of that. Although they are comfortable on their boards and have no fear riding waves, there was a lot of apprehension about going out past backline, jumping off the boat and freediving down on one breath of air. We believe that it is crucial to continue to develop people’s relationship with the ocean and freediving is a fundamental part of achieving that.
Despite living walking distance to the shoreline, many Bermudian young people have never seen the world just beneath the waves. With no exposure to the wonder and excitement of the ocean, how would Bermuda’s future generations appreciate their own big blue backyard?
Kids on the Reef is an active two-day classroom and immersion program teaching the skills and knowledge for youth to become safe freedivers and advocates for global ocean issues facing Bermuda.
The program includes both confined water and open-water freedive instruction along with teaching coral reef ecology, ocean conservation, and personal development through setting goals and coaching mental and body awareness.
Kids on the Reef is taught by a certified I AM WATER global instructor and education staff from Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo. One of the unique parts of the Kids on the Reef program is the access each participant gets to be coached by I AM WATER global team instructors including world-record holding athletes, marine science experts, international filmmakers and ocean storytellers.
Kids on the Reef targets middle school aged, underprivileged youth getting them salty in the ocean and building their blue minds. This year we got more kids in the water than ever before, 144 M1 (7th graders) got to open their eyes underwater, I AM WATER Freediving Instructors Hanli, Peter and Beth taught a certified Freediving Course to 20 new local coaches in order to further the Alumni program and assist with Kids on the Reef moving forwards.
The I AM WATER team is very proud of this partnership with the Bermuda Zoological Society and the committed guidance of Dr Alexandra Amat. Without the support of XL Catlin, the growth of Kids on the Reef would never have been possible and we are grateful for the visionary leadership within XL Catlin that has made this company a leader in ocean conservation and exploration.
From Cape Town via Dubai to Malé. Emirates ladies with their bright red lips and smiling eyes. Truly friendly and helpful. Dubai to Malé I have two seats by the window so I sleep, finally I get woken up by the pretty airhostess who encourage me to look out the window. I sit up groggily and look at the Atolls below me and my breath gets knocked clean out of me. It looks like a magical ocean fairyland in shades of turquoise and aqua, coral just visible below the surface and everything round. Slightly submerged, perfectly round bowls of coral. I imagine myself freefalling out the plane into the middle of that crisp clear ring. Dreamy, sleepy thoughts.
Vast expanses of blue with small dots of green on the horizon, the Maldives is a nation of ocean with occasional bits of land. A seaplane hop to the paradise that is Soneva Fushi gets me closer to my dream of dancing with manta rays.
Soneva is situated in the Baa Atoll, close to the world famous Hanifaru Bay – a relatively shallow lagoon surrounded by coral. If the winds and currents are just right they create a unique plankton extravaganza every year and then… sometimes, the mantas come in their hundreds to feed.
We anchor the diving boat in the late afternoon light and I slip on my monofin. The water here is just below 30°C so all I need is mask and fin. No wetsuit.
Softly I slip into the water. I gasp. My skin erupts in painful stings, small pinpricks of pain make my heart rate speed up and my muscles tense. Mask on, look down, deep breath and I smile. Plankton.
If the plankton’s here… surely… I peer down into the milky blue-green water. One, two three deep breaths and I kick down, down looking around, hoping for a meeting. Then I see her. Like a ghost the manta glides into my vision. She must be over three meters, silently gliding, her mouth wide open I can see right into her. She seems to not notice me, swimming straight at me… I kick down to let her pass over me and my heart skips a beat. The pearly white of her belly is painted with small black spots and blotches, her unique markings. Her fingerprint.
I watch her disappear and kick up to the surface, gasping and laughing, overwhelmed by beauty. I make my surface time as short as is still safe and go back down. Waiting. A wall of mantas appear from the dusk. Four, five, ten like a flock of large birds flying impossibly
slow. Keeping still they pass by me like ghosts. They are larger than I had imagined, slower than I thought possible and more beautiful than anything I have ever seen. I don’t want to need to breathe, I want to stay down here forever, waiting for their graceful return. Lungs burning I kick up. Gulping air impatiently I dive down again too soon, like one addicted.
I dive down deeper, peering into the distance. Where are they? Squinting into the darkening blue I wish and wish… I imagine shapes, a shift in the water colour- a manta shaped stain of white in the blue. Seeing what I want to see… And then suddenly they are all around me. More than ten mantas with mouths wide-open swim toward me, above me, below me around me. I am small in their midst, they ignore me, intent on their invisible feast. With no bubbles and a smoothness of movement I hope that my freediving will allow me to swim with the group, not disturbing, but not wholly invited. Swimming alongside one I look into her eye, big, round, black with small wrinkles in the corner, like laugh lines. I wish I knew whether I was tolerated or welcomed. The mantas show no fear of me, they circle around me gently if I happen to be in their way, sometimes lifting a wing tip to avoid a clumsy snorkeler. I have never seen a creature this graceful, this elegant.
The sun sets and the lagoon gets dark. The other divers have left the water. Can I stay? Just one more dive, please. It the thing once seen that can never be unseen. A creature so kind, so perfect, so mild and vivid all at once that it leaves you breathless. I can’t pull myself away from this dance. One more dive, one more interaction, one more loop shared with a gentle giant watching me from a laughing eye. I look up at the white bellies silhouetted against the dusky sky, if you were to ask me know - I would say yes, I believe in angels.
A blustery 4th of May saw us kicking off the 2015 edition of Kids on the Reef, our two day workshop project running in Bermuda in collaboration with the Bermuda Zoological Society and kindly sponsored by XLCatlin for three years running. Bermuda is an island situated in the North Atlantic Ocean and it really is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest place to Bermuda is Cape Hatteras, located over 1000 kilometres (640 miles) away.
Like many of the places
where I AM WATER is active, the children of Bermuda live where people come from
all over the world visit because of the beauty of the surrounding oceans, yet most
of them have never seen below the surface of the water or explored Bermuda’s world-renowned
On the first of April, I had the priviledge of going to Northlands Girls’ High School in Durban, South Africa to give a talk to 126 Grade 8 girls about I AM WATER and our misison of ocean conservation through human experience.
It was extremely inspiring and gratifying for me to spend time with such insightful, aware and enthusiastic young ladies. I have so much hope for the future knowing that these young ladies are the future custodians of our oceans. Three of the Grade 8’s, Airi, Jodi, and Rita, very kindly wrote about their experience of my talk. See what they had to say…
- Beth Neale
Dolphins leap in front of the boat, it’s as if they can sense our excitement and rush out to welcome us to Cocos Island. We lean over the bow and peer into the distance. An emerald green bump in the vast expanse of midnight blue water gradually rises on the horizon.
I AM WATER team members Hanli Prinsloo and Peter Marshall had the great privilege of joining Mission Blue and Fusion Network for a once in a lifetime trip to the remote Cocos Island. Acclaimed ocean advocate Dr Sylvia Earle has been diving at Cocos Island for decades, and joining her on the boat we could feel her infectious enthusiasm sweep us first timers along as we travel the 36 hrs from the Costa Rican port city of Puntarenas. The UnderseaHunter Group is one of two operations that are allowed access to the island for recreation diving. Our vessel the Argo is equipped with two diving skiffs as well as the incredible DeepSee diving submersible and her support skiff, Topsy.
We’re a motley crew of salty sea lovers and divers. Dr Sylvia Earle, Shari Sant Plummer and Kip Evans from Mission Blue
(http://mission-blue.org/) Adrian Grenier, actor and activist working on his Lonely Whale project (http://52thesearch.com/) freediver and shark researcher Ocean Ramsey/ Waterinspired (http://www.waterinspired.com/) Julie Andersen the Founder of Shark Angels (http://sharkangels.org/) Stephanie Ruhle best known for being the face of Market Movers on Bloomberg TV (http://www.bloomberg.com/personalities/stephanie_ruhle/) and our intrepid storyteller from Fusion Network, Professor Jorge Cortes, coral reef expert and author, Nicolas Ibarguen and his team. (http://fusion.net/author/nicolas-ibarguen/)
We have flown from far and wide to board the Argo and together explore the oceans around Cocos – see for ourselves the state of this magnificent marine reserve. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/820)
Its 50 kilometres of reef is home to a huge abundance and variety of corals and fish species and endangered marine megafauna, such as whale sharks, great white sharks, manta rays and leather back and loggerhead turtles also visit its waters. Even the ‘living fossil’, the Coelacanth was discovered in November 2000 dwelling in the deep. From winter to spring, Humpback whales migrate along the coastline and bottlenose dolphins live in the waters all year round. And then of course there’s all the pelagic fish, like sailfish marlin and kingfish. This is a really special place and people come from all around the world for the opportunity to experience life beneath Sodwana’s surface.
We protect what we love…
I AM WATER Trust teamed up with Marine Megafauna Foundation to train the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park Marine Rangers in Mozambique earlier this month. Dr Andrea Marshall and her team organised an amazing week of educational lectures about the unique habitat and marine life in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park while I AM WATER got to spend time inspiring their unexplored aquatic abilities and teaching them some freediving and snorkeling. Our goal was that by the end of our week together was for the Rangers to be able to snorkel and see the incredible creatures they work towards protecting.
The children of Mamoli Mission live along one of the most beautiful and pristine coastlines in the world and yet their big blue salty backyard remains unexplored because most of them cannot swim... That was soon about to change!
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