Ashleigh’s scuba diving adventures

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“There is nothing better than looking above you and being surrounded by marine life,” junior Ashleigh Stepnowski said. Ashleigh, an avid scuba diver, started to pursue her underwater passion during the summer of 2019 when she participated in the Sail Caribbean program. This program entailed sailing around the British Virgin Islands for three weeks and exploring the marine biology of the Islands. Another activity offered in the program was scuba diving. Ashleigh initially signed up to try out scuba diving because she thought it would be a fun, new experience. And after her very first dive, she fell totally in love with it.

Ashleigh got her open water diving certification that summer, which allowed her to go down to between 60 and 80 feet underwater. “It’s the first basic certification that everyone has to obtain before they can do more complicated and advanced dives,” she explained. After her very first dive, she made the decision to pursue increasingly complex scuba diving certifications. 

After her first summer, Ashleigh earned an advanced diving certification and two speciality certifications. “Speciality certifications are just indications that you have extra training in specific areas of diving,” Ashleigh said. “At that point in time, I had a conservation speciality and an underwater naturalist speciality.” Having an underwater naturalist speciality means Ashleigh is well-versed in marine biology and identification, something very useful when surrounded by marine life. Her conservation speciality is all about sustainable diving practices. 

Because of COVID-19, Ashleigh wasn’t able to go back during the summer of 2020. However, this past summer, Ashleigh continued her endeavors in advancing her diving skills. She attended a three-week summer camp that was entirely focused on scuba diving. “I had to quarantine for a week when I got to camp, so I tried to make the most of the two weeks of actual diving I was able to do,” she said. 

Ashleigh was eager to become certified as a rescue diver, which is one of the most complex non-professional certifications offered. “A rescue diver certification is exactly what it sounds like,” she said. “I basically needed to be certified in a lot of basic first aid and understand anything you would need to in a diving emergency.” Because it was such an advanced certification, Ashleigh spent two days training in search skills and rescue skills and spent any other time she had doing paperwork, studying with her peers, and taking exams. She was able to pass her final exam and earn the certification. 

At the same time, Ashleigh was earning two additional speciality certifications: the deep certification and shipwreck certification. “I got to dive really far down and also go into shipwrecks, and it was an incredible experience,” she said. On one of Ashleigh’s shipwreck adventures, she spotted a sea turtle eating seagrass near the entrance to the shipwreck!

Ashleigh’s favorite memory from the camp and her scuba diving certification journey so far was her last dive of the summer. She and her classmates went out to a rock, and it turned out to be a shark spot. “As soon as we went down, we were surrounded by four reef sharks, and they stayed there for 45 minutes circling me and the other divers,” she said. 

Next summer, Ashleigh’s goal is to obtain the title of Divemaster. She has put countless hours of work into all of her certifications and is looking forward to exploring all of the new opportunities that she now has!