Fostering Ocean Stewardship
Stories from the Blue: Jay Haigler

Jay Haigler standing
Photo: Tara Roberts

There are two types of people — scuba divers and those who are about to become scuba divers. Jay is the diving safety officer for the National Association of Black Scuba Divers Foundation’s Scientific Diving Program and a board member and lead instructor with Diving With a Purpose’s maritime archaeology field school. As a D.C.-native, Jay cherishes the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. After years of documenting maritime heritage throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System, Jay advocated for the designation of Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, and is now a member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council. He inspires youth to become stewards of the waterways around them. This is his Story from the Blue.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time on the many rivers and tributaries that feed into the Atlantic Ocean in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area—such as the Potomac, Anacostia, and Rock Creek rivers, and Chesapeake Bay. My parents were both educators and would make time for the entire family to spend on these waterways, often turning our visits into a science project for my older brother and I. It wasn’t until later in 2004, during my first experience in the Cayman Islands, that I knew I wanted to become a certified scuba diver. My wife and I took a PADI Discover Scuba class. Seeing so much aquatic life underwater, such as a big school of sergeant majors, and experiencing weightlessness for the first time was just amazing.

Now I have completed over a thousand dives as an instructor and diving safety officer with Diving With a Purpose, and I am passionate about passing on the life-changing experience of scuba diving to the next generation. With financial support from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, we started an Introduction to Scuba program in Charles County, Maryland with Henry E. Lackey and North Point high schools. The program gave these students an opportunity to take their first breath underwater. Seeing the “light bulb” go off for these students is what gets me up in the morning. It is a defining moment that opens them up to so many new possibilities.

I am passionate about passing the life-changing experience of scuba diving on to the next generation."

Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary provides a tremendous opportunity to participate in and engage youth in the D.C. metro area in the aquatic environment. Diving With a Purpose’s motto is “restoring our oceans, preserving our heritage,” and while we are not doing any scuba diving with youth at the Mallows Bay sanctuary, we are teaching these young people that all waterways do lead to the ocean, and what they do to the environment here has a ripple effect throughout the aquatic environment elsewhere. We are also connecting them to the blue heritage protected by the sanctuary—the “Ghost Fleet”—as well as the rich cultural history around Mallows Bay.

Kids observing marine life
Students can learn about marine life in the sanctuary. Photo: Matt McIntosh/NOAA

It was truly an honor to witness the designation of Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary in 2019, because there hadn’t been a new sanctuary designation in over 20 years. It was like seeing a new beginning in marine conservation happening in America, and I had a chance to be a part of that. I see my position on the Sanctuary Advisory Council as an opportunity to be an ambassador for my community; a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person Of Color) representative; and to help cultivate a deeper connection to the sanctuary and all that it protects.