Diving all over the world, Sarah Gauthier saw everything our magnificent oceans have to offer. But one thing was always the same, wherever she dived. The amount of plastic she had to sieve through. But it got to the point where Sarah knew she had to do something about it and raise awareness of the issue. We spoke to Sarah to hear more about her inspiring story; Taking the Plunge Against Plastic, and her mission to dive in every continent.
I owe my interest in diving to my mom. I grew up in Québec, Canada where the cold winters and fresh summers were perfect to learn to ski, ice skate, bike or play soccer. Water sports on the other hand were not a typical pastime. My mom would go on holidays to the Caribbean every year and come back with fantastic diving stories. She had a little camera and I could see glimpses of the underwater world. It caught my attention and interest and I was desperate to see it for myself.
I think what made me fall in love with diving initially was the excitement of discovering a whole new world. I did also enjoy the peace and calmness of life under the water. I got into underwater photography after a while because I wanted to share the best moments of my dives with my families and friends, the way I experienced them. It was a little like “bringing” people diving with me. And I guess that’s where my idea to dive all seven continents came from.
As I spent so much of my time diving, it was easy to notice the changes to the environment and the damage that plastic pollution was having. At first the environmental damage made me feel helpless and sad. But one day I decided I had to take control and try to do something about the issue. I wasn’t an engineer or a scientist, I couldn’t find a solution to the plastic problem. But I did have something special and powerful. I had a voice. Nowadays, social media is a big part of our lives and it’s given us the possibility to use this voice and share information with the world. So that’s what I decided to do.
I knew I had to do something big in order to get people’s attention, so I had an idea to go on a mission to dive in all seven continents, by myself, to raise awareness of marine conservation. And the continent I was most apprehensive about diving in? Antarctica.
The underwater scene is entirely different in Antarctica: you’re diving next to icebergs and are surrounded by completely unique animals. But you’re also far away from everything. The rational part of me was excited to find out what I was going to see. I was confident in my ability to dive: I knew I had the proper training and experience. But the irrational part of me was thinking, “what if something happens?”. We were a two-day boat trip from the nearest hospital.
At first, it’s the thermal shock. Every time I would do my roll-back entry into the sea I’d get brain freeze immediately. The cold is immense, especially on your face. I had two little spots on my cheeks that were directly in contact with -2ºC water. After a minute or so, they would become numb – so I couldn’t actually feel the cold anymore! Wearing a drysuit with a lot of undergarments made me feel like the Michelin Man which was another thing I had to get used to. The drysuit also made me more buoyant, so to compensate for that I had to wear a lot of weights which made it harder to move freely. Even using my hands was much harder underneath the drysuit gloves – I found it tricky to use my diving equipment as well as my camera. My longest dive was 50 minutes and at the end, I had to hold my hands higher than my head to let the air fill my dry gloves and insulate my fingers!
I wanted to make sure I documented my dive in Antarctica thoroughly, so that everyone could experience the amazing place it is. But I won’t pretend I wasn’t nervous. When you dive have to know your limits and make sure you have the proper training. I definitely had both of those but it was a totally new experience for me, diving in cold water. But once I got over the initial nerves, it was by far the most exciting and challenging place I have ever dived. I came face to face with a leopard seal carrying a dead penguin in its mouth. It was the most intense encounter I’ve ever had with an animal. I could see his massive teeth, less than two metres away from me, his giant eyes were curiously looking at me – probably wondering what this weird animal with pink accessories was! He left the penguin in front of me, went to the surface to take a breath, grabbed his meal back and left. I will forever remember this moment and I hope that by sharing it, other people will realise that our planet is a jewel and is worth taking care of.
I’m definitely going to go back to Antarctica to dive – now I’ve tasted it I can’t get enough of it! I’m planning some new dives too – now I know I can dive in cold water, I want to explore more. Maybe Russia, Scotland or the Arctic – it doesn’t frighten me anymore so I know I’ll be able to do it. I want to continue to share my mission with everybody too. Go to schools and talk with young people. Be a role model and hopefully partner with projects, people and companies with the same goal. The plastic problem is everywhere. Some countries have better infrastructures to take care of it so it’s less noticeable, but its there. And it’s up to us to change our habits and our ways of life to ensure that something is done about it and we can change.
To read more about Sarah’s story and her experiences diving in all seven continents, click here.