“We should not hold our breath while diving. It is the first and the most important rule in scuba diving,” says 8-year-old Thaaragai Aarathana, imparting ‘lessons on diving 101’ with this writer.
Thaaragai from Karappakam, Chennai, has always had a special bond with the ocean. And why not? She has been diving since she was 5 years old.
She attributes this interest to her father, Aravind Tharunsri, a scuba diving expert and instructor, who has been encouraging her to explore the wonderworld under the sea since she was even younger.
“I have been into scuba diving for over 20 years and I wanted my daughter to have early exposure to the ocean and the marine ecosystem. I think it’s important for children to learn swimming from a very young age,” says Aravind who runs a scuba diving centre in Chennai and Puducherry.
“Now she has developed a love for the ocean and deeply cares for the marine ecosystem that is under constant threat,” he says.
Other than scuba diving, the father-daughter duo has also been on a mission to clean the beaches and the ocean as well as to raise awareness of marine pollution.
“Being a scuba diver I have been witnessing the extent of pollution and how it is affecting the marine ecosystem. So, the least I could do is to create awareness and to do clean-ups, which is in my capacity,” says Aravind who has been a professional scuba diver since 2007.
“I have been doing ocean and shore clean-ups for over 17 years and have collected around 10,000 kg of plastic waste,” he adds.
Now, Aravind is accompanied by his daughter in his efforts at cleaning the beach and the waters. He elaborates, “My daughter and I are in it together and we have collected over 600 kg of plastic bottles till now, which we sell to plastic scarp shops who later recycle the same. Thaaraagi now wishes to donate the money raised from selling the plastic waste to the Department of Environment, Tamil Nadu.” plastic scrap shops who later gives it recycling
Aravind believes that it is important to get children adapted to water early on. “I wanted my kid to get used to the water since she was a baby, so we introduced her to the water when she was just 3 days old. She started floating when she was 9 months old. At the age of 2 and a half years, she started swimming,” he says.
“Wherever I would go, I used to take her along with me and made her comfortable with water. Later at the age of 5, she started diving but mostly in shallow waters and by the age of 7, she became very comfortable with swimming and diving,” explains Aravind with a smile.
Aravind, who advocates for marine conservation, has been encouraging his daughter to be a part of his activities and says, “It is essential to inculcate such values in children from a younger age as they represent the future generation.”
Thaaragai says that she loves spending time doing clean-ups at the beaches and in the ocean. “My father always used to take me while doing beach clean-ups and he used to tell me about how the ocean and the beaches were getting polluted and how it affects marine life. So, I also felt like helping my father with collecting the plastic waste from the beaches as well as from underwater,” says Thaaragai who is currently in Class 2.
“I also believe that it is essential to inculcate such values in children from a younger age as they represent the future generation,” he adds.
Apart from beach and ocean clean-up, Thaaragai is also raising awareness on protecting endangered marine animals, especially the Dugong (sea cow).
Talking about his daughter’s interest in saving marine animals, Aravind explains, “I have been giving training to the forest department, the marine police and the fisheries department along with the Wildlife Institute of India. So, I got the opportunity to work with the Wildlife Institute of India in their initiatives to save dugong, which is one of the endangered marine animals. I used to take my daughter along with me. She also used to attend the awareness programmes and eventually became interested in dugongs.”
He continues, “She has been doing presentations to create awareness among school children on conserving marine animals like Dugongs.”
Thaaragai says, “All the plastics and nets inside the ocean makes it difficult for the marine animals to survive. So it is important to do something to save them from the threat. It is also applicable for other land animals as well.”
Following in her father’s footsteps, to bring attention to the cause of conserving marine life, Thaaragai recently swam an 18-km stretch, with her father assisting her, from Covelong to Neelankari, under the theme ‘Save the Ocean’. She set a record in Assist World Records.
“When I grow up I also want to be a diving master just like my father,” she says smiling.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)