ConnectOcean Expeditions is a PADI certified diving school and Marine Ecology Center that offers an Open Water Certification Course with access to some of the best diving experiences in Costa Rica and education about the conservation of the country's vibrant aquatic ecosystem.
For travelers looking to get certified in Costa Rica, the Las Catalinas islands offer some of the best diving in the country. With migratory species such as bull sharks, humpback whales, whale sharks and manta rays passing through during some months, the amount of life you see on a dive here is exhilarating.
Connect Ocean is located in Danta Beach, in the pedestrian town of Las Catalinas on the North Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
This social enterprise puts emphasis on certifying competent divers who are informed about the underwater world and passionate about protecting it, allowing course students the skills to observe some of the best diving in the country. Course students or already certified divers can choose from several tailored expeditions with professional instructors for the chance to swim along with bull sharks, get a close-up at a turtle “arribada” or nesting site, and discover Cocos Island, one of the world’s most remote diving destinations.
They can also take the 4-day PADI diver certification course that lets them encounter the beauty and fragility of the Pacific Ocean with appreciation. Small group instructions over 5 pool sessions are followed by four ocean dives in which students are fully immersed in knowledge about species that make up the local underwater ecosystem.
ConnectOcean's Conservation and Outreach Manager, Sarah Travers, organizes and leads the 4-day PADI course as well as manages the data that's collected during excursions, teaches swimming and diving, and connects with organizations and community members.
She shares some insight into what it means to get PADI certified in an open water diver course and why this is an experience that goes beyond diving itself.
A Personal Connection With the World’s Oceans
For Sarah, diving is much like meditating. As she submerges, she is in full contact with nature. Weightless and liberated, distracted solely by her thoughts, diving lets her engage with and admire the vastness of the sea and the majestic marine life.
Ever since her own first dive during a certification course she got as a high school graduation present from her parents, her relationship with the ocean is based on awe and respect. Sarah cherishes the same elements every time she teaches PADI students or assists travelers in taking any of ConnectOcean’s expeditions.
She hopes to provide students with the skills to have the same connection, and firmly believes that diving is the best way to engage with the world underwater. “Creating a connection and lasting relationship with the ocean is the only way that we will conserve and protect the oceans that make our world a livable planet. This is the most important work there is, and diving is an integral part of the mix,” she says.
That’s why she loves the challenge when a new student or visitor comes to the center. “I love teaching here because I get to take my time with the students in small classes and groups. We spend the time it takes for each student to become really comfortable with the skills they are learning.”
The environment in Costa Rica makes it a special learning ground as well, Sarah continues. She admires the country’s rich biosphere above and under water: the variation of temperature between seasons, the visibility and migratory species, and the projects that ConnectOcean embarks on regularly. “What sets Costa Rica apart is the amount of life you see on a dive. Schools of fish cover the rocky reefs and move around the water column. We seasonally also see the humpback whales, whale sharks, and oceanic manta rays. This environment is so dynamic, but always full of life.”
Bringing Out the Diver in All
The process of getting PADI certified is a little different at ConnectOcean than at other diving schools, Sarah explains.
First, the knowledge and theory of diving are taught online, where the student can complete the work at their pace. Once they arrive at Connect Ocean's headquarters in Danta Beach, there are five pool sessions during which the student is taught hands-on skills. This culminates in four open ocean diving lessons that enable the divers-to-be to demonstrate their competency in diving's most essential skills.
It is technical, but also fun, Sarah adds. The course is tailored to meet the pura vida principle that is canon in Costa Rica, so it challenges the students while providing them with the skills they need to become true stewards of the ocean. “We also embed a bunch of information about the species we see, their adaptations, and their place in the ecosystem. We really go above and beyond other dive centers with the information and the amount of time we spend with our students, with the goal of creating skilled and knowledgeable divers,” she says.
Breath work underwater is not far from the fundamentals of breathing on land. Students learn to take their first breaths underwater without using their nose thus preventing them from breathing in the water that accumulates in the mask. By accomplishing breath skills underwater in the pool and demonstrating proficiency in the open ocean, students learn a lot about their physical selves and utilizing that knowledge in the aquatic world.
In this way, the courses allow for the exploration of a previously foreign part of the world, growth of the person as a human being, and a connection with the world's oceans, Sarah says.
ConnectOcean’s approach is unique. Instead of attempting to fit as many people in their expeditions and courses as possible, and rushing through the information, ConnectOcean strives to create competent divers that are passionate and informed about the ocean and the life that it sustains.
Therefore, instructors spend the necessary time for each student to feel completely comfortable with the skills they learn. Sarah, in particular, enjoys this teaching environment and utilizes the extra time with students to inspire the same awe and wonder that marks her personal relationship with the ocean.
To get the most out of the course, instructors teach the students how to wear and maintain their gear after they leave ConnectOcean; how to use the mask, snorkel, buoyancy control device and tank, and regulator in open water dive. They also learn to keep a record of the tide and the water temperature to visibility, depth, and water life, so they can plan their diving excursions accordingly in the future.
Time to Dive
Once certified, the PADI open water divers can join the ConnectOcean staff on their citizen science excursions and help gather information and data to be used in conservation efforts. A few examples of this research include Vessel Surveys, deploying Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (BRUVS), and measuring rays, turtles, and sharks using Laser Photogrammetry Units.
The certification opens up an entire aquatic world for students. After the training, they will feel comfortable visiting diving destinations in the world, renting equipment in dive shops, identifying diving sites and even taking a friend to their favorite dive spots