30 Minutes with Tara Abrina
with Tara Abrina
Video by Carmen del Prado
A young and passionate sentinel of the seas, longtime GRID collaborator Tara Abrina also happens to be a two-time national record holder for freediving and founder of the Kapit Sisid group for marine conservation. When she’s not immersed in competitive freediving, she brings people together to freedive for our oceans’ health. We found her out of the water and talked about her experiences in working with the freediving and marine conservation communities.
Can you tell us about how Kapit Sisid started, where they’re based, and how they help conserve marine areas?
Kapit Sisid started because I promised a community I worked with in Zamboanga Sibugay that I would come back and teach them how to freedive. It was supposed to be a one-time project for the municipality of Ipil. But it has since expanded to other areas because my friends from both the marine conservation industry and freediving industry wanted to hold similar projects in their areas. (When I say conservation groups, I usually mean local governments and civil society groups who check on their reefs). It is not based anywhere, but it is a network of freediving professionals and marine conservation groups in the Philippines who want to learn from each other.
It helps conserve marine areas in two ways: by equipping marine conservationists with the skill to freedive, they can check on their reefs without the high costs that are usually associated with scuba diving, and they can also offer skin diving tours as an alternative to fishing (we’ve taught fishers, too). From another perspective, the freediving instructors who volunteer their time learn more about the marine environment through the eyes of conservation practitioners.
How else do you use freediving as a platform or tool to teach communities about the value of our oceans and marine protected areas?
By sharing the marine environment through underwater photos it enables freedivers to become the voice, the frontliner for the ocean, in ways that are relatable to the general public (as opposed to, say, fishermen or marine scientists who do activities that are not always accessible to the public). For coastal communities, in my experience, freediving has shown them another use for the ocean besides just food and a nice view—that protection doesn’t mean the end of a livelihood in fishing but an opportunity for another: in tourism. Of course, the suitability varies on a case-to-case basis, which is one of the challenges we tackle every time.
How can weekend/recreational freedivers contribute to the oceans’ well-being?
Freedivers can simply share their photos online, and already it makes an impact. They can also take it a step further and submit their photos with their observations of the reefs they visit to the Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch, which is now being housed at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The DENR then forwards these reports to the respective regional office for immediate action.
Other than this, recreational freedivers also have the option to host cleanup dives, or treat every dive as a cleanup dive. Learning more about marine life and threats to the ocean is also a great way to contribute.
What are some things freedivers should refrain from doing?
Besides the usual—don’t touch, sit, or stand on anything that has life (you can view best practices on Greenfins).
I think something that isn’t talked about often is that a usual freediving course may be insufficient to equip a freediver to do open water fundives without a line. That is, a freediving course was designed to enhance the skill of breath hold diving and prevent blackouts, but, in my opinion, it doesn’t prepare you for real ocean situations that can potentially put you at risk. A freediving line removes many of the risks involved in open water diving. Without it, freedivers subject themselves to boat traffic, current, bad visibility, etc. This means that, whatever your performance is in a freediving course, this shouldn’t be the benchmark for your performance during a fun dive without a line. So, I always encourage my friends not to dive as deep or as long as they did during their freediving course, and to study other practices (mostly from scuba divers) that are useful out in the open sea.