Monday, July 28, 2014

Youth Diving With a Purpose: Maritime Archaeology Camp with National Park Service

These past two weeks have been what I commonly refer to as a 'fieldwork bubble' where the rest of the world falls out of my purview and my only focus is the project at hand. I have been down in the Florida Keys with a group called Diving With a Purpose (DWP) (referred to in this post) and the National Park Service Submerged Resources Center

In 2011, I met the Founder of DWP, Ken Stewart, on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean side of Cape Town, looking for a shipwreck with the Slave Wrecks Project. DWP is a maritime archaeological advocacy course. We annually take a team of lay divers to document shipwrecks for the National Park Service (usually in Florida) where I am a DWP Maritime Archaeologist and Head of the DWP Research team. When Ken and I met, we immediately discovered our mutual goals of bringing the knowledge and preservation of underwater cultural resources to young people, so we helped create Youth Diving With a Purpose (YDWP), and had our inaugural session last July 2013. 
Biscayne National Park, 2013
YDWP is aimed at students who come from diverse communities but have been fortunate enough to learn how to scuba dive (either in school or from the help of some of our mentors). Our students represent an array of diverse communities from around the States and globally. The program is constructed to supply the young lay-diver (high school age) with knowledge to become underwater advocates for conservation and preservation through the pursuit of maritime archaeology. YDWP is a weeklong program teaching the basic skills of maritime archaeology in the Biscayne National Park, with the option for three-year renewal to become a DWP instructor in the adult course (two sessions in Florida and third session in Mozambique, Africa). The development of our youth component is a way for DWP to inspire the next generation of youth divers and give them solid maritime leads for their higher education and career goals.


YDWP offers what other similar youth outreach programs cannot- that is a chance to take diving youth from diverse communities and actually get them in the water consecutively for years to come. Not only have our students fine-tuned their scuba skills, but they have been immersed in the fairly new scholarly pursuit of maritime archaeology. Maritime archaeology is only just becoming well known amongst the broader community of terrestrial archaeologists. As such, diversity is under-represented in this professional sphere, and YDWP aims to change those figures by teaching our students the necessary skills to become successful candidates for university programs and professional fellowships in maritime archaeology or similar subjects. Already our older students are off to pursue marine majors at universities around the United States this coming fall (Texas A&M, University of Miami, PennState, etc..). Our record of accomplishment as professionals, divers and mentors, all of whom are unpaid dedicated volunteers, are helping inspire the next generation of divers and scientists and giving them concrete ways to get there. Through YDWP mentorship, the students will develop their goals for their futures, gain a greater appreciation for the oceanic environment and the cultural heritage that is threatened on a daily basis. They will take this knowledge with them into their communities at home, at school, and when they enter the workforce.

So for the last few weeks, I have been spending my time with this fantastic and successful group of high school and young college students. The course is divided up by different teaching focuses on the tenets of maritime archaeology. The first day is full day of presentations about the NPS, the Slave Wrecks Project, and the skills/wreck that we will be working on for the project. This is followed by an intensive afternoon of setting up a mock shipwreck and working on the skills we have just gone over. The next two days are typically boat days, where we are on the wreck doing a full survey, setting up the baseline, doing offset points, doing trilateration mapping, and in-situ drawings of artifacts/features on the site. Then we normally have a day back on land to reflect and discover any measurements or drawings that need to be retaken/redrawn. This year we had the boat three days in a row however, so we didn't get to do as much on land mapping to create a composite site map (usually the final product), because we had a community service project up in Delray Beach, Fl. The community service aspect is an important part of our YDWP outreach, to engage local kids to becoming more interested in underwater cultural resources but also in the big blue ocean that is in their backyards. 


Every time I see our group of students, which for some is often throughout the year, I become more proud and in awe of their accomplishments and motivations to overcome their individual challenges. It sounds incredibly cliché to say all of these things but I have become all the more motivated for my own professional and personal goals, just by spending time with them. The connection that the mentors and mentees have at YDWP is one that I find unmatched in most other situations that I find myself working, and I am sure that can be said for most in the program. In my experience, it isn't typical for an archaeological project to have such a real world impact on young people's lives, so for me, this goes far and above typical fieldwork experience and I greatly look forward to many years as a YDWP mentor and friend. 


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