A $ 5,000 award from Seiko will fos­ter his mis­sion to en­list young divers in the cause of pre­serv­ing his­toric ship­wrecks

Scuba Diving - - Front Page - BY MARY FRANCES EM­MONS

Ken Stew­art is a busy man. When we reached him to tell him he had been se­lected as Scuba Diving and Seiko’s Sea Hero of the Year, Stew­art, 74, apolo­get­i­cally said he’d have to get back to us. He was about to head out from his Nash­ville, Ten­nessee, home for a week­end of wilder­ness sur­vival camp­ing.

That drive is what led our Au­gust Sea Hero to found Diving with a Pur­pose, which teaches divers the prin­ci­pals of ma­rine ar­chae­ol­ogy in or­der to fos­ter ex­plo­ration of sub­merged cul­tural trea­sures. The group, which ini­tially sprang from Stew­art’s work with the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Black Scuba Divers, is par­tic­u­larly known for its search for the Guer­rero, a slave ship that went down in Florida’s Bis­cayne Bay in 1827. Work­ing with NOAA and the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, DWP seeks to con­clu­sively iden­tify Guer­rero and other wrecks through many hours of painstak­ing vol­un­teer ser­vice un­der­wa­ter.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in DWP re­quires an in­tense, one-week course that teaches the lay scuba diver the ba­sic tenets of mar­itime ar­chae­ol­ogy. “The African slave trade has been mostly ig­nored — it’s not taught in schools,” Stew­art told Scuba Diving in Au­gust. “DWP has had an op­por­tu­nity to bring this era to light.”

That makes his recog­ni­tion as Sea Hero of the Year par­tic­u­larly sweet. “It’s some­thing spe­cial to be rec­og­nized by the dive com­mu­nity for some­thing you are pas­sion­ate about,” Stew­art says.

Stew­art started diving al­most 30 years ago, when “all I wanted to do was to be a recre­ational diver,” he says. But his pas­sion for work­ing with young peo­ple — he also co-founded both Youth Diving with a Pur­pose and the Ten­nessee Aquatic Project, which teaches mi­nor­ity youth swim­ming, diving and other skills — spurred him to do more.

Sea He­roes is spon­sored by Seiko, which presents each Sea Hero with a Seiko Prospex PADI Spe­cial Edi­tion SRPA21 watch, and awards the Sea Hero of the Year $ 5,000 for his or her projects.

“Seiko is hon­ored to have high­lighted the ex­tra­or­di­nary work done by scuba divers mak­ing a dif­fer­ence for our world’s oceans,” said Mune­hisa Shibasaki, pres­i­dent and CEO of Seiko Watch of Amer­ica. “To­gether we are able to bring con­tin­ued at­ten­tion and sup­port to divers as they bring aware­ness to the ex­plo­ration and pro­tec­tion of our ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment.”

Stew­art plans to use the prize on next sum­mer’s Youth Diving with a Pur­pose ses­sion. “We are still part­ner­ing with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice on its quest to find Guer­rero, but we have not found the smok­ing gun” — such as the ship’s bell, shack­les or other con­clu­sively iden­ti­fi­able ma­te­rial. “We might need a few more mis­sions be­fore we can say whether this is the ship.”

For its 2018 ses­sion, YDWP wel­comed divers ages 16 to 23 from Costa Rica and Hon­duras as well as the United States, and es­tab­lished “gen­er­a­tional learn­ing ses­sions,” where adult and young divers shared in round-ta­ble dis­cus­sions that went be­yond mar­itime ar­chae­ol­ogy to “is­sues that are af­fect­ing them in their daily and per­sonal lives,” Stew­art says. “I think it’s very im­por­tant that we open — and keep open — lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween gen­er­a­tions.”

Stew­art’s true re­ward? “To watch young peo­ple and adults come to love the same things I love.” The Sea Hero of the Year award helps “bring a sense of aware­ness to the prob­lems fac­ing this beau­ti­ful planet of ours,” Stew­art says, and for that, “I say thank you to Seiko and

Scuba Diving mag­a­zine.”

A diver puts her mar­itime ar­chae­ol­ogy skills to use in Florida’s Bis­cayne Na­tional Park dur­ing the 2018 Youth Diving with a Pur­pose ses­sion.

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