Impact Journalism Day 2016

Kuwaiti Diving Team Is Toast of Coast

A group of dedicated volunteers are improving the Gulf state's marine environment. And with membership on the rise, things are going swimmingly for the Kuwait Dive Team.

A Kuwait Dive Team event marking Earth Day.
Courtesy

The Kuwait Dive Team was formed in 1991, in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of the Gulf state. This group of young volunteers shared a love of the marine environment, and their first goal was to clear the coastline of the military waste the Iraqi army had dumped there.

“Kuwait’s dive team was formed to take part in the reconstruction of Kuwait following its liberation from the Iraqi invasion in 1991,” says Mohammed al-Rashed, director of the Marine Environment Science Department and current head of the Kuwait Dive Team. “Because Kuwaitis wanted to protect their marine environment, a new national campaign was launched on December 25, 1991,” he continues, adding, “The diving team has the duty of lifting objects, rescue and rehabilitation, and reconstruction of Kuwait’s marine environment.”

One of the team’s most immediate challenges back then was to obtain the special equipment and technicians required to lift sunken objects from the seabed. The Kuwaiti divers were untrained in salvage techniques and the equipment at their disposal was distinctly primitive. However, they used basic apparatus – like giant iron tanks that were used to lift boats – to raise the military waste. The tanks were sunk, attached to the object to be lifted and then filled with air, which would lift the item from the seabed.

Their initiative soon caught the eye of government officials, who supported the group by integrating the volunteers into an officially registered public association: the Kuwait Science Club – Marine Environment Science Department. This allowed the state to provide the team with financial support and the resources needed to let it perform its duties.

Anyone who is 18 or older and a member of the Kuwait Science Club can join the dive team. New members don’t even need to know how to dive, as the team provides full training to its members, taking into account their inclinations and interests.

The team currently has 50 divers, although membership is on the rise given the Kuwaiti people’s continued attachment to the sea. The team is mostly comprised of young divers, although there are older divers in the team, too.

The Kuwait Dive Team performs several key tasks, including “rescuing marine creatures and repairing coral reefs; providing habitats for sea creatures, plus removing waste and discarded fishing nets,” according to its website. In addition, “protection of the marine environment, and all the wildlife it holds, is paramount to the Kuwait Dive Team. Also, promoting serious environmental awareness of different societal sections and groups, of whatever background.”

Life-threatening conditions

Members of the Kuwait Dive Team constantly put their lives on the line in waters contaminated by oil and where vision is virtually nonexistent – mainly in areas strewn with barbed wire, naval mines and floating debris. Despite these obstacles, the team managed to raise more than 172 boats and yachts, weighing over 6,350 tons in total, during its first five years of operation.

The team also implemented the mooring buoys project, which contributes to the prevention of damage to the coral reef caused by boat anchors. Additionally, it launched a fish colonies project – which provides shelter in areas where fishing activities are limited – with a view to preserving fish stocks.

To raise environmental awareness and attract young Kuwaitis to become volunteers, the team also established the Swimming and Diving Training Center, which is an internationally recognized center that provides training to young people interested in marine sports, especially diving.

The center applies the highest security and safety standards, and has a good reputation at local, regional and international level thanks to its facilities and equipment.

Armed with the latest teaching aids and boats that carry special equipment, the center has been instrumental in taking young people on diving trips. The youngsters get to see how diverse and fascinating the marine world is, and receive a better understanding of why it needs protecting.

Having provided training to approximately 1,500 members, the center was awarded five stars by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), a major international organization that provides diving training.

Members of the Kuwait Dive Team.
Courtesy

Numerous awards

Kuwait’s dive team has continued its work assisting the state in efforts to combat environmental pollution. The team began with five qualified amateur divers with international diving licenses, but in a short time the number of members grew tenfold and the number of volunteers doubled.

The team started its operations with tools and equipment owned by the members and simple rescue methods, but it has now amassed the experience to compare with any professional diving team in the world.

The team members have full-time jobs in addition to their time with the diving team, but they have dedicated themselves to assisting others in rescue operations. Their goal is to serve as a national organization that can be called upon during marine emergencies and disasters.

Since its inception, the Kuwait Dive Team has won numerous awards, including two from the United Nations, and the Environmental Enrichment Award from the National Association of Underwater Instructors in 2009, recognizing its activities protecting and rehabilitating marine environments.

A monument commemorating the achievements of the Kuwait Dive Team can be found at the entrance to the organization’s headquarters in Shuwaikh Port.

This article first appeared in the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.