Think Out Loud

Young Pacific Northwest scuba divers advocate for oceans

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
July 13, 2022 5:16 p.m. Updated: July 20, 2022 8:28 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, July 13

Kids 10 and older are learning how to dive in the Pacific Northwest. The skill has given them a greater appreciation for the world's oceans.

Kids 10 and older are learning how to dive in the Pacific Northwest. The skill has given them a greater appreciation for the world's oceans.

Courtesy of Annie Crawley


In Washington, kids as young as 10 are learning how to scuba dive. As they learn about the other world that exists underwater, some are inspired to discover more about our oceans and what’s at stake as climate change and human interference affect sea life. Annie Crawley is a scuba diving instructor, photographer and author. Elise Foot Puchalski is a 17-year-old diver who combines her skills with scientific research. They join us with more on their underwater experiences.

Note: The following transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. In Edmonds, Washington, kids as young as ten are learning how to scuba dive and as they learn those diving skills, they’re picking up other things as well, about marine life, climate change and the intertwined nature of ocean health and human health. That is exactly what Annie Crawley wants. She is a Scuba Diving Instructor and an Underwater Photographer and Filmmaker. For more than a decade now, she has led these young diving teams. Elise Foot Puchalski is one of her divers. She is a 17 year old who’s going to be a senior this fall at the Ocean Research College Academy. Welcome to you both.

Annie Crawley / Elise Puchalski:  It’s so great to be here. Thanks so much.

Miller: Elise Puchalski, I’m curious first because I understand that you did a dive just this morning with Annie and the Team, where did you go?

Elise Puchalski: We dove in our local Edmonds Underwater Park and we had a great time.Annie’s teaching kids this weekend, open water, so they’re just learning. So we wanted to go out and test the waters and see what the conditions were like.

Miller: What is Edmonds Underwater Park?

Puchalski: Edmonds Underwater Park is a marine protected area and local people here, including Bruce Higgins have built up the park and created trails. It’s a grid-like map. So it’s easy for people to navigate and marine protected area means that people cannot take any fish or go crabbing and there’s no boats allowed either.

Miller:  And ‘trails,’ meaning when you go under the surface there are paths that are marked that new divers can follow?

Puchalski: Yes. There’s a full map of the park and there are ropes and sometimes pipes and different landmarks around there that you can use as for navigation.

Miller: When did you first see Annie and her youth diving team?

Puchalski: I met Annie when I was nine and I saw her diving with other kids and teens and that immediately inspired me and I knew then that I wanted to dive and when I was 12, I was able to learn to dive with her and it was so amazing and I loved it so much and I still love it now.

Miller: What do you remember about that first dive?

Puchalski: It’s just like entering into a new world and it looks so different from the surface in some ways and it looks the same in others because there’s algae which are like trees or plants. Then there’s fish and other animals like we have here on land, too.

Miller: So you were nine, you saw this and immediately said,’As soon as I’m old enough, I want to be able to do this.’ Do you have a sense for why you were so captivated even before you did it?

Puchalski: I think it just looks so cool and I grew up watching divers go in the water before I even knew Annie or knew much about scuba diving and I think that inspired me. And then at the Seattle Aquarium, there’s a diver in their front tank that interacts with people and talks with the kids there. And I think that also made me want to dive.

Miller: Primed you for it. Annie Crawley, what about you? When did you start diving?

Annie Crawley: Unlike a lot of the kids and teens that I teach, I didn’t start until after I graduated college.

Miller: Are you jealous of these divers who had a 12 year head start on you?

Crawley: No, not at all. I don’t feel that at all. I’m actually overjoyed that I can run a program that could reach kids as young as ten, because I think that the ocean world has always been portrayed as a scary place and shows about the ocean are so serious. Scuba diving, when it’s done properly and taught properly is, one of the safest sports that you could ever imagine. And so I have helped shift, in our community, that scuba diving is easy enough that even ten year olds can learn to dive.

Miller: Was it love at first dive for you after college?

Crawley: I had graduated from college at the University of Illinois. So I didn’t see the ocean and experience the ocean until after college and when I saw a sign, ‘Learn to Scuba Dive,’ and I breathed underwater for the first time, it was life changing. It completely changed the trajectory, the projection of my life and it was absolutely love at first bubble.

Miller: I read on your bio that you sold your car to buy your first professional underwater photo and video cameras. What was your plan at that time?

Crawley: I knew I was going to go around the world and teach photo and video to other people and that I was going to become a storyteller of the underwater world because I feel like so much of what is told about our ocean, it’s misrepresented. And so I knew I had to document and share my stories, because my stories were all about amazing places and filled with joy and just this other world that Elise mentioned.

Miller: You write also, in your bio, that when you’re not living underwater with your cameras and exploring the ocean, you enjoy your surface intervals. Do you prefer to be underwater as opposed to on land?

Crawley: Absolutely. I am much more comfortable diving in schools of sharks. I just got back from Malpelo, Colombia, in which we had bait balls and silky sharks, and it’s just extraordinary to be in the water in this kind of excitement, and know that all of the myths that you hear about sharks, they’re not true. They’re not correct. And I get to help reprogram people in how we feel about the underwater world.


Miller: How do you feel about tv phenomena like ‘Shark Week’ or movies like Jaws ones?

Crawley: So movies like Jaws are…for the new generation, thank goodness, computer technology has changed so much, that they look at Jaws as a joke,but…

Miller: Oh, just because the special effects don’t scare them.

Crawley: Yes. The special effects don’t scare them.

Miller: That’s literally what you do, you breathe a sigh of relief because the technology of the movie isn’t such that it scares people the way it did in the seventies.

Crawley: Yes, but for their parents, their grandparents, you play two notes, and the power in these two notes are ‘Alfred Hitchcockian’ because of what Steven Spielberg did in the movie Jaws, he created a masterpiece. But unfortunately, it scared people from the beaches and so I think that we have to really understand how important the ocean is in our life. In my latest book, Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean with author Patricia Newman, we set up me as one of the characters in the book and we link the Pacific Northwest together with the Coral Triangle and the Arctic and talk about how we have one ocean. You were just talking to these people in Oregon about the maps that they created for the wildfires. Well, if you look at any world map, most of them get it wrong about our world. We are 71% ocean and the rest is land and we need to understand how important the ocean is to people on our planet.

Miller:  I should remind folks we’re talking right now with Elise Foot Puchalski, who is a Diver on Annie Crawley’s Youth Diving Team. Annie Crawley is a Diving Instructor as well as an underwater photographer and filmmaker. Elise, has becoming a diver yourself, over the last five years, has it changed the way you think about the ocean?

Puchalski: Yes, it has. While I dive, I feel like a fish down there and I feel part of that environment and it feels like home to me in some ways and a lot of people don’t get to experience that and don’t get to see the beauty and the amazing animals. And I want to protect all the animals and plants and everything in the ocean because they’re so important for humans’ health and just to enjoy their beauty, too.

Miller: What would you say to someone young or old who is intrigued or even excited about the idea of diving but is afraid, you know, for the sharky reasons that Annie was talking about or any other?

Puchalski: I would encourage them to learn more about the ocean and learn more about what they’re scared about, because if you do a lot of research about sharks, for example, you’ll learn that they really aren’t normally aggressive towards humans and we’re invading their home. It’s not the other way around. So it’s just about respecting the environment and respecting the animals there and if you do it safely and in a respectful manner, people aren’t gonna get hurt.

Miller: I saw a testimonial from another member of this team who mentioned that one of her most memorable dives was in the winter when it was snowing. Have you been out in truly cold or snowy weather?

Puchalski: I have been out in cold but not snowy weather. It is often raining here in Washington. So a lot of times in the winter it’s raining as we’re trying to get in the water and we want to keep our under layers nice and dry, so we aren’t cold in the water too.

Miller: My understanding is that you’re mainly using dry suits because the waters and the air is so cold, Is that right?

Puchalski: Yes.

Miller: Annie, Is it hard to get these young people to go out when it seems objectively miserable outside?

Crawley: [Laughing] That’s funny. Yes, they motivate me in the best of times, but I think when Elise hit at ‘home’ and when she used the word ‘home,’ we all feel, I think, that I find these kids and teens and these families that also are ‘water people,’ we are all water people but they feel that they find home when they find scuba diving in the ocean or snorkeling. You asked, ‘Is it hard?’ I would say that the very first thing that I do with somebody who’s younger, who’s ten and wants to learn to dive is, we have to do an assessment to see if they’re physically and mentally ready. And one of the things that I ask all the kids in the teens to do is to start doing push ups and to build their body strength because when we wear our steel tanks in our in our weights and we’re walking in and out of the water, because Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, many places in the Pacific Northwest where we all dive, we’re shore-diving, so we’re walking in and out of the water often and the kids and teens have to carry the weight. And so by building their physical strength, that’s really important. But the hardest things for kids that are ten and eleven are actually hand skills because your hands get cold and they have teeny tiny hands. And so there’s different things that we do in order to prepare the kids, of course they have to know how to swim and they have to be comfortable in the water because there’re swim tests for the kids. But it’s a pretty easy swim test for most kids in a tread water, but it’s just building them psychologically as well and guiding them to prepare them.

Miller: How do you help them psychologically?

Crawley: I’m part of the PADI Program, Professional Association of Dive Instructors, and when you look at how the course is laid out and taught, when I first became an instructor, more than 25 years ago, it actually helped me teach any kind of program because you read, you watch videos, you do things so you physically do them and then you get tested for them. And so we have a lot of pool sessions as part of our team and I teach it as a reward-based, and so any challenge that somebody might have when they’re going through the program, there’s always a workaround. We just have to find what it is that works for the student.

Miller: Elise. Where are you excited to dive next?

Puchalski: Well, I love diving with the other kids and teens on this dive team because it’s such a great community. So I’m really excited to dive with other people this weekend and help these new divers experience their first dives and that’s super exciting for me.

Miller: You’re actually helping to teach them or guide them yourself at this point?

Puchalski: Well, I’m a Junior Dive Master in Training. So, Annie’s going to do most of the diving with them, but I still got to help them and work with them in some of their skills.

Miller: So, Annie…

CrawleySo let me add, can I jump in here? I think that…

Miller: We have one minute left…

Crawley: Okay, this is really important. So we run a tier program that Elise went through rescue diver a couple of years ago. So she comes back and she helps the rescue diving classes. And then she’s such a leader that I have all the teens that are qualified come back and help the young divers because when they went through their open-water, they have so much compassion for all of the young ones that are coming through after them.

Miller: Anne Crawley and Elise Foot Puchalski, thanks so much.

Crawley / Puchalski: Thank you.

Miller: We’ve been talking about a scuba diving team for young people in the Puget Sound. Elise Foot Puchalski is a member of the Team and Annie Crawley is the leader of it. She is a diving instructor and an underwater photographer and filmmaker.

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