When Kwadjo Tillman got the opportunity
to scuba dive on a century-old shipwreck
at the bottom of Thunder Bay National
Marine Sanctuary, he jumped in feet-first - literally.
Bubbles swirled around Kwadjo's mask as he
plunged into Lake Huron, the burden of his heavy
scuba gear suddenly light in the buoyant underwater world. Down he drifted, peering into the bluegreen void. The rhythmic noise of his scuba regulator filled his ears. A hulking shape loomed out of
the depths: the wreck of the 235-foot steamship
Montana, lying fragmented and algae-covered on
the lake bottom for nearly 100 years.
A 17-year-old aspiring marine scientist from
Fairfield, Iowa, Kwadjo was one of three young
members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) who traveled to Alpena, Mich.,
last summer to participate in a scientific expedition
to the Montana. He worked side-by-side with underwater archaeologists as they searched for clues
about the history of the ship, which caught fire and
sank in 70 feet of water in an area known as "Shipwreck Alley" in 1914.
The highlight of the mission came when Kwadjo
and two of his fellow NABS members discovered
not one, but two, previously unidentified shipwrecks while searching for artifacts on the bottom
of the lake. As these young team members found
out firsthand, there are still plenty of secrets in our
national marine sanctuaries waiting to be uncovered
by the next generation of underwater explorers.
"There is no better way to get up-close and personal with the sea
than scuba diving," Kwadjo said. "It's great recreational activity and
can only be equated to sinking into another world."
Partnerships like the one with NABS are among the many ways
the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries works to get young people
interested in ocean recreation. Scuba diving is an important economic
activity for many coastal communities, and encouraging new scuba
divers helps promote continued interest and participation in the sport.
Last year, NABS brought its Youth Educational Summit to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, giving students like Kwadjo the
chance to experience these special underwater places for themselves.
"We will do anything that gets the kids in the water and excited," said
NABS member Ken Stewart.
As Kwadjo and countless other young divers already know, the
best way to gain an appreciation for the underwater world is to see
it with your own eyes. Through diverse partnerships and outreach
efforts, the national marine sanctuaries are providing more and more opportunities for our future ocean leaders to do just that.