Last year, we at Scuba H2O Adventures Magazine covered Girl Scout Troop 40348 of Central Texas: the world’s first scuba diving girl scout troop. Headquartered at dive center Dive World Austin in Austin, Texas, the troop has made significant strides towards developing a better future for the scuba diving world, and in turn, benefit the world’s oceans and our understanding of them – how we can better serve and safeguard a fragile environment.
Editorial by John Tapley
Empowered with curiosity and a genuine desire to foster a better blue world, these proud young women have given it their all to establish a better understanding of the perils facing the world’s oceans and develop the skills and attitudes required to meet them. We at Scuba H2O Adventures Magazine are grateful to share their story and what they hope to achieve throughout the rest of 2019.
Past and Current Happenings
In the summer of 2018, the troop visited the Florida Keys for the first time. Branching out from their native Texan waters, the young divers unveiled a greater understanding of aquatic expanses – their scope and importance – and applied their skills and determination in a saltwater environment; some troop members earned their advanced open water certification. The entourage, 16-strong, stayed at Amoray Dive Resort and met with prolific diving establishments in the area, including the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), the NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), the Turtle Hospital, and the History of Diving Museum.
Explains Michelle Graf, PADI Assistant Instructor at Dive World Austin, and Girl Scout Troop 40348 leader and dive master – nicknamed “Queen Trigger” by scouts:
“It was a great experience for the girls. We love our lakes but it’s a lower visibility environment. For the majority of them this had been their first-time diving in the ocean and seeing visibility more than 15 or 20 feet. It was wonderful to see them get out and explore and use the skills they learned in the lakes: natural navigation and compass navigation… to show they are competent divers, which is what we want to create. [We want] skilled divers that can get back to the boat and have a great time while respecting the environment, which is what they do.”
Girl scouts and cookies are synonymous, and in celebration of scuba and snacking, the troop conducted its second annual underwater cookie sale event, which was featured on NBC’s Nightly News on February 15 of this year. According to Graf, the scouts sold around 200 boxes of the iconic cookies, meticulously sealed in recyclable plastic zip-lock bags.
Says Karina Erickson, PADI Instructor for Dive World Austin and “mermaid” to the troop:
“The girls took this and decided they were going to figured out a way to improve it for the second year. We had an entire system set up in addition to the news crews there. We had a line out the door of the pool room.”
Working alongside Girl Scout Troop 40348 is Stream2Sea, a producer of body care products, which has donated sunscreen and hair conditioner to the troop’s efforts. Stream2Sea products are environmentally-safe and biodegradable: a strong appeal for an environmentally active group of girl scouts.
“One of the major things for the girls is that, not only are they scuba divers, they feel it is their mission to promote ocean conservation and health. Stream2Sea’s mission of providing coral-safe sunscreen is something the girls believe in… to educate the public and make sure we’re taking care of the reefs. We’re partnering with Stream2Sea when the girls go to St. Croix and will do a social media takeover while on the dive trip. Additionally, the girls are working towards their silver and gold awards and are looking at sunscreen… maybe making a patch for ocean sunscreen. They’re doing their research on it and will hopefully work on it over the summer.”
Girl Scout Troop 40348 has made waves both for waterways local and abroad while meeting personal challenges and milestones. Over the last year, the troop has completed 57 certifications, including parent volunteer divers, with 80 percent of scouts earning their advanced open water certification; one scout completed 50 divers. The troop has totaled an estimated 172 volunteer hours, which includes planning and hosting a Women’s Dive Day event, volunteering with the CRF, and underwater trash clean-ups.
“The scouts really like to pick up trash underwater and have done that a couple times,” says Graf. “They look at it as fun, and we’re glad the troop is centered around volunteering, cleaning, and giving back.”
“I think it’s huge,” says Erickson on parent volunteer divers. “Diving is a family sport and we’ve really seen that with the girls: it’s not just the girls getting in the water: it’s a family adventure for everyone.”
With a successful year of completion and accomplishment, the diving troop is setting its sights on future goals and projects: cementing the already well-established camaraderie, goodwill, and spark for adventure. Out of the successful advanced open water divers, 75 percent plan to continue their education with a Rescue Diver course, which is slated to take place over the summer.
“The girls will go through the full Rescue Diver course,” says Erickson. “It’s always up to them: we never want to force them to continue on with their certification. We want to make sure it’s their priority and interested to carry it on. Quite a few are ready to move on to rescue and we’re slowly introducing those new skills in the pool.”
“The goal of Girl Scout troops is largely to be girl-lead, and that happens from the time they’re in kindergarten to the time they’re in high school,” adds Graf. “With diving, there are some limitations on how much they can lead, but as far as what they’re interested in, in specialties, classes, and certifications, that comes from the scouts. They have a wide range of interests, and we want them to do that independent from us; and we try to provide resources to make that happen.”
The scuba youth troop is preparing for this year’s Women’s Dive Day event, scheduled for July 20 at Windy Point Park in Lake Travis, Texas: the third of its kind. Each year, the event celebrates the accomplishments of women divers while showcasing these achievements in an underwater trail: in a previous year, for example, scouts shared information on women diving photographers through sealed paper adorned throughout the trail.
“There’s a lot of training that happens at that park, and a lot of people who go out there for fun. After putting together the first underwater trail, they got a lot of feedback from students and instructors, and people who were out fun diving: ‘It was fun to see those pieces of information while doing their dive.’ They’ve decided to return to that concept.
“This year the girls are going to go with a conservation theme. They’re going to honor women diver conservationists as well as focus on conserving local watersheds: tricks that can save the ocean need to be practiced at home in our local underwater environments. They want to do another underwater trail for divers who want to protect local lakes and waterways.”
Traveling abroad for the second year, Troop 40348 will explore the majestic waters off St. Croix in the Caribbean in late June. According to Graf, this trip will offer a dual focus with digital underwater photography learning combined with a fish ID course, and shark conservation with Project AWARE.
“It builds into what they’re interested in: learning more about their underwater world. There’s going to be a lot of pictures,” she laughs.
Back home, the troop plans to remodel an old Girl Scout camp pool house, themed with aquatic conservation like this year’s Women’s Day event: including a large mural and printed facts about how to maintain a healthy aquatic ecosystem. The group is also looking into fundraising opportunities for the purchase of troop tanks to help ease accommodations on trips.
“When we all go out somewhere, it’s like an army of divers,” Graf says. “In our big events like our lake cleanups we easily have over 20 divers in our group. It can be difficult to get tanks for everyone when they all go out. We could have more flexibility in our scheduling with a new set of tanks.”
Beyond achieving personal goals and helping the environment, Girl Scout Troop 40348 serves as a foundation for the future generations of scuba explorers, an in turn, the dive industry at large. Through these programs, girls are encouraged to seek positions within the broader world of diving: encompassing professions in fields such as oceanography and marine biology.
“I think this is such a cool opportunity for the dive industry: you have these young girls who are excited about diving and continuing their diving education; and some are even talking about becoming professionals in the dive industry. It’s a way for us to not only give back as female instructors but for us to grow the industry with the next generation of divers.”
“All of our troop leaders are incredibly proud of how far they’ve come as divers, what they’ve done, and how passionate they are: not just as professional divers: we have one scout that’s interested in getting into dive medicine; and another interested in a career in the military. It goes beyond what recreational diving has to offer and it’s neat to see.”
For more details on the first Girl Scout Scuba Troop, including donation information, visit its website at https://troop40348.weebly.com.