The future of our endangered planet will lie in the hands of our grown children. It has therefore never been so important to make the young acutely aware of issues related to conservation and ecology by exposing them to the wonders of nature. How to do it? For Beth Neale, a four-time South African free dive champion and self-confessed “mermaid,” sharing her love for the ocean is the answer—connecting children to the sea means inspiring them to understand how important oceans are to the entire planet. For the last six years, Bermuda’s youth has benefitted hugely from her passion. Working with the Bermuda Zoological Society and Dr Alex Amat, she now facilitates two ocean conservation programmes. The two-day Kids on the Reef programme, now held in both the spring and the fall, teaches young Bermudians about ocean ecology, introduces them to snorkelling and allows them to experience first-hand a healthy coral reef as well as aquatic life around shipwrecks. The second programme, a five-day free- diving camp for children aged 8-15, is the world’s first of its kind. Neale coaches the participants to discover their free diving abilities, thus allowing them to have magical interactions with marine life. These experiences, she believes, “will inspire them to become ocean guardians for Bermuda and the world.” In addition to conducting the programmes, in 2019 Neale raised over $20,000 for the Bermuda Zoological Society Ocean Education Programmes, by breaking a South African and African continental record diving to 50m/164ft without fins. “It’s the deepest free dive ever in Bermudian waters,” she explains, “and an African continental record.” The free dive raised awareness about Bermuda’s pioneering free diving ocean conservation work with children while putting our island on the map as a free diving destination.
Neale’s love of animals goes back to her childhood in South Africa, where she spent many holidays on safari, as well as on the coast. Aged 11, she wanted to be a dolphin trainer but a visit to SeaWorld made her realise the injustice of keeping animals in captivity. Swimming with dolphins and whales for the first time gave her a purpose: “It was the first time that I felt completely and deeply connected to nature. It was from then that I felt a strong calling to protect our blue planet and I knew that whatever work I did would need to be connected to that.”
She continues to keep true to her calling. Through her company Aqua Souls, she focuses on promoting the conservation and preservation of the ocean by developing film and social media projects. And, of course, she continues to offer free-diving workshops for adults and children. “Free diving,” she enthuses, “is your passport to a whole new world.”