On July 31st and for the ninth year in a row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium gave young people with disabilities an opportunity to experience the freedom of being in the ocean when it hosted them for a 90-minute surface SCUBA experience through its Underwater Explorers program. This year’s program was sponsored by a generous grant from Salinas Valley Memorial’s Children’s Miracle Network.
George Peterson, the Senior Diving Safety Officer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium tells us that “[they] have been purchasing some of the gear from Oceanic since the program’s inception and it has certainly served us well! We love the pint-sized BCD’s and the Explorers Regs are awesome! Jesus always does a great job for us.”
This years Day of Discovery was another success and “next year we’ll most likely purchase more gear from Oceanic as we may try to expand the program and add a family component” says Peterson.
24 young people with varying disabilities put on modified SCUBA gear and with the aid of the aquarium’s certified dive staff, encountered sea creatures as they explored the aquarium’s Great Tide Pool.
All participants were between 8 and 14 years old and some are confined to wheelchairs. The non-profit aquarium provided free access to the program and all exhibits for the young people and their families.
The magical day was in honor of 10- year old Zach Bunnell, who fulfilled a year-long wish to participate in Underwater Explorers in 2004, despite fighting brain cancer that left him blind. Bunnell passed away a few months after fulfilling his dream, but his gentle and witty spirit inspired several aquarium staff to offer this unique experience to other special needs children.
The aquarium developed the Underwater Explorers SCUBA program in 2002. It was warmly embraced by participants and was made a permanent summer program in 2003 to give children ages 8 to 13 an opportunity to have a similar SCUBA experience in the Great Tide Pool. This year’s Underwater Explorers program debuted on June 18 and is running four times daily through Labor Day.
You can head over to http://specialkidsscuba.org/index.html for more information.
Photos Courtesy of: Cecil Claspell, PADI Master Instructor #195046, DAN DES Instructor #12351