‘We need to ensure marine activism reaches everyone’: Master scuba diver Vidhi Bubna

On her first scuba deep dive last year in the Andamans, in the middle of the raging pandemic, Vidhi Bubna had a ‘deeply emotional response’ when she witnessed coral bleaching. “On my first ever dive, I noticed all the corals in Andamans were bleached. I came up and told my instructor – ‘It’s like a graveyard down there’, and it made me feel guilty. I kept asking myself – ‘Am I responsible for coral bleaching in any way?’ and I felt a constant surge of self blame,” she said.

That memory and the urge to do something for marine life stayed with the 23-year-old in such a way that she started Coral Warriors to raise awareness about marine biodiversityconserve it, and present more Indians with the opportunity to dive.

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The Economics graduate from Mumbai-based Ashoka University believes the thrilling, adrenaline-rushed activity is an important tool to understand climate change. In a conversation with indianexpress.comthe certified Padi Project Aware specialist and a Padi certified coral conservationist talks about becoming a master scuba diver in the pandemic, the need for more diverse, and why understanding and conserving marine life is essential.

What about scuba diving interested you?

Economics was never my field of interest and I always felt the need to do something outside the classroom, something more adventurous. I wanted to try diving ever since I watched videos of marine life as a child, but I never imagined that I would actually end up learning in my 20’s. I started watching YouTube videos of divers swimming with sharks, turtles, sting rays and other sea creatures and was prompted to experience the magnificence of marine life. During the pandemic, with work from home opportunities, I found the space and time to dive and developed a passion for conserving marine life† I started diving last year, in the middle of the pandemic. It made me feel at peace, almost like meditation. Every time I dived, I felt closer to myself. Scuba diving was challenging to learn at first because I couldn’t imagine losing control in the deep sea. But once I let go of my fears, it has been the best, enriching experience of my life. I have recently completed my master scuba diver course from Maldives, Egypt, and Andamans.

Vidhi Bubna wants to create awareness on coral bleaching (Source: Vidhi Bubna)

How does coral life get affected by climate change?

Corals are small marine animals that die due to rise in water temperatures. Ash climate change is causing global rise in temperatures, corals across the world are dying. This is a major cause of concern because if corals die, the smaller fish that feed on corals will also start getting extinct. Post that, the entire food chain and ecosystem will face a threat. According to some reports, the oceans could be empty of fish by 2048. This is a major cause of concern and should wake people up.

And what role does scuba diving play?

Climate change is real and it’s happening faster than we imagine. Many youth think climate change is a political issue but it’s much more than that. Climate change is deeply personal and it impacts all. Scuba diving with marine organisms can teach people about ecosystems they had never imagined or thought deeply about before. One only needs to interact with nature on a daily basis and see the difference and deterioration over time. I only had to dive for one week to see how real coral bleaching is. Moreover, viewing coral bleaching first hand can make people aware about climate change and also spark emotional response in them, committing them to the cause in the long-term.

A memory from your diving experiences that has stayed with you all this while?

One of my favorite dive experiences has been swimming with around 10 sharks in Maldives. I had always imagined sharks were dangerous but once I observed them closely, I realized sharks have built a reputation that isn’t fair. It was an eye-opening experience challenging my perceptions of the world.

What’s your idea behind your initiative?

My vision is to educate as many Indians about marine biodiversity and threats to marine life as possible. With Coral Warriors, we want India to have a front row seat in international conversations about politics of climate change† We want India to lead these conversations and influence global collaboration in this sector. We can only do this when the youth are more passionate and we aim to spark their passion with deep sea diving experiences. Also, we fund the initiative mostly by getting donations from college professors and students, who know most about the issue. Recently, we also got the team at Exposure Labs (US based production company to donate to the cause).

Coral Warriors is also providing a grant to explore marine life and understand climate change. Tell us more.

It’s not necessary for everyone to do underwater professional courses. Some people are also scared of the ocean and cannot go diving but we need to ensure that marine activism reaches everyone. We aim to raise more awareness by documenting coral damage and also taking videos about marine biodiversity. People can only know about marine biodiversity and habitats when they observe it. The best way to do this is by documenting marine life better on television, giving it more space in media and making people who don’t dive realize their actions on land can influence species in the ocean. We want to spark the joy and curiosity that children experience when they see a different species on Nat Geo.

We started the grant last year. Our motto is “It is impossible to believe in things till we see them for ourselves”, hence we want to create experiences where people can observe climate change, believe it’s happening, and work on making a difference. To apply, candidates need to fill in a questionnaire online and present their ideas on climate change to an independent selection committee comprising eight diverse people.

What can individuals do to help at the grassroot level?

Individuals can help on a daily basis by making more conscious choices that do not contribute to climate change in any way. The decisions we make on land also affect marine organisms that we cannot even see. It is essential to keep all species in mind during our daily decision-making.

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