On June 2, The History of Diving Museum of Islamorada, Florida, unveiled its latest featured exhibit to the public, “Diving With a Purpose 15 Year Odyssey: Restoring Our Oceans, Preserving Our Heritage”, continuing its mission to promote and preserve oceans and cultural heritage. The new exhibit honors the accomplishments of Diving With a Purpose (DWP), a nonprofit, global organization that is driven toward educating and training adults and youths in maritime archaeology and ocean conservation to document and safeguard precious shipwreck sites; and is made possible through the museum, DWP, the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS), Biscayne National Park, and NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Article by John Tapley; photos courtesy The History of Diving Museum
DWP has made significant waves in maritime cultural appreciation and protection, with over 380 program participants. The organization was founded within Floridian waters through the determination of NABS and National Park Service (NPS) members, and took root in Biscayne National Park: the largest marine park within the NPS system, which boasts a staggering 110 underwater archaeological sites, which include 43 intact shipwrecks. DWP surveys, documents, and preserves 19 of these sites, including steam vessels, slave ships, and World War II aircraft, and focuses on the maritime history and culture of African Americans.
We spoke with The History of Diving Museum’s Executive Director Lisa Mongelia (LM) and Community Outreach Coordinator Emily Kovacs (EK) on DWP, the exhibit, and this exciting new partnership.
EK: The history of diving museum has been collaborating with DWP for several years – when they come down to the Florida Keys for citizen science and working with the National Marine Sanctuaries. [As] part of their trips they do public presentations, so we’ve hosted them at the museum: getting the word out on some of their projects: mostly focused on marine archaeology and working with NOAA to identify the variety of shipwrecks we have here.
Last year, when they were in town, it was their 14th anniversary and they were talking about returning for their 15th year. We talked about putting together a display that shows everything they’ve done with their projects, locally, and expanded with the Tuskegee Airmen, work with Biscayne National Park, and Youth Diving with a Purpose. The whole team took a year together and now it’s on display.
JT: DWP covers a lot of bases, creating a healthier diving community. This looks like a strong partnership.
EK: Yes, we’re really excited. Not only are they a great group of volunteers, they’ve also expanded with a program to mentor youths and teach them about the ocean: coral restoration projects as well as marine archaeology.
JT: The exhibit opened with a ribbon cutting and special event on June 2. How did the event turn out?
EK: It went really well! We had a lot from the Diving With a Purpose and a lot of members of the community and our board members, as well as National Geographic. It was well received, and two days later we had our first school group coming in. We also hosted Samuel Jackson who is working on a documentary series as well on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade; he met with DWP members and toured the exhibit.
Saturday, July 20 marks PADI’s International Women Dive Day, and the History of Diving Museum will conduct a two-part event in celebration. Visitors can meet with Keys local, director Karuna Eberl, who will discuss her award-winning documentary “The Guerrero Project”, which details the titular early 1800s slave ship, which sank off the Florida coast. Following this morning presentation, visitors will be able to take part in a Heritage Awareness dive event with Sailfish Scuba in Key Largo.
JT: You have a couple events planned for this year’s PADI Women’s Dive Day. Could you elaborate on them?
LM: “The Guerrero Project” was a documentary done in 2004. It followed Diving with a Purpose and a few other groups searching for the slave shipwreck Guerrero. She’ll come to the museum for a 10 am presentation, and she’ll talk about the process of creating the documentary, some of the research they had to go through, and the different obstacles that come with identifying shipwrecks, and working with organizations to come together to create this project.
In the afternoon, we’re working with Sailfish Scuba in Key Largo. We’re going to be doing a heritage dive snorkel trip at two shallow wreck sites. The focus of it is going to be on teaching people how to do some of the monitoring and measurements, and that will tie into Sailfish Scuba’s Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar that Florida Public Archaeology Network puts together. For a separate fee, earlier in the week, people can take the classroom portion of that to learn more about the processes.
Through the efforts of the DWP, these submerged time capsules – their myriad stories of peril and triumph – will be imparted to future generations, establishing a greater understanding of the past and a diligence to keep it protected. The DWP exhibit will be available for public viewing at The History of Diving Museum until December 31 of this year, and will travel to other museums and non-profit venues.
Located in Islamorada, the History of Diving Museum has been lauded as one of the best cultural experiences for scuba divers in 2019. It offers self-guided and guided tours for groups, many of which have included scuba diving trip leaders and clubs – a surface interval, as Mongelia heartedly describes. The museum is routinely open for visitors from 10 am to 5 pm each day of the year, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.
For more information on The History of Diving Museum, go to www.divingmuseum.org.
Diving with a Purpose (DWP) is a 501c3 organization dedicated to the conservation and protection of submerged heritage resources by providing education, training, certification and field experience to adults and youth in the fields of maritime archaeology and ocean conservation. [Its] special focus is the protection, documentation and interpretation of African slave trade shipwrecks and the maritime history and culture of African-Americans who formed a core of labor and expertise for America’s maritime enterprises.
For more details on DWP, visit divingwithapurpose.org.