Two Young Sisters Inspiring the Next Generation of Scuba Divers
If there's one demographic which is under-represented in the dive community, it's children. Amy Burns, aged ten and her sister Charlotte, 17, however, have notched up some remarkable diving achievements between them. Mark ‘Crowley’ Russell reports
At ten years and two weeks old, Amy Burns became the youngest ever certified diver to participate in a shark dive at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas centre.
Amy has been around diving and dive equipment since she was three, following in the footsteps of her 17-year old sister, Charlotte, who became the world’s youngest PADI Master Scuba Diver just two days after her twelfth birthday. Inspired by her sister, an eight-year-old Amy began attending the Aquanauts programme at Andark Diving and Watersports in Southampton, UK.
Described by her instructor as ‘a lovely, bubbly girl,’ and ‘quick to learn,’ Amy began her Open Water course as soon as she turned ten, completing the theory and confined water training at Andark, and her open water dives at Stuart Cove’s.
‘When I first met the Burns family, it immediately showed that they all shared the same passion for the underwater world,’ said Alex Frans, head of the training department at Stuart Cove’s. ‘It is not often that you have a ten-year-old girl walk into one of the biggest dive shops in the world with the confidence of someone who has been diving for years.’
That confidence was well founded, according to instructor Shaquille Campbell, who completed Amy’s referral dives. ‘She started by easily setting up her own gear and asking questions about what was to be expected on her first ocean dive,’ said Shaquille. ‘Amy excelled in all of her skills and did her mask removal and hovering skills exceptionally well.’
During that training dive, Amy spotted her first shark in open water. ‘After we did some skills, Shaquille pointed towards something moving in the water,’ said Amy. ‘I looked at it for a couple of seconds before I realised it was a Caribbean reef shark.’ The shark stayed in the area for the rest of the dive. ‘I loved every second of it,’ said Amy. ‘It was an amazing first dive!’
The day after completing her course, Amy found herself on the same boat as the divers who were about to participate in the shark-feeding dive for which Stuart Cove’s is well known. Prior to the dive, there seemed to be some concern over the presence of a ten-year-old on the boat. ‘At first, everyone was just staring at her,’ said Charlotte. ‘But by the end of the dive she had the respect of the whole boat. All the macho men on the dive boat soon changed their minds about Amy and wanted to have pictures taken with her,’ she said. ‘Some were too scared for the second dive, as the sharks were circling the boat,’ she added. ‘Amy just did a giant stride and got on with it.’
Allowing children to dive – and dive with sharks – is not a decision that is taken lightly. Parents need to determine whether a child’s physical and emotional maturity is sufficiently advanced to take responsibility for the challenges that diving presents. Instructors must use their professional judgement to determine whether the child is confident and capable of managing the risks safely. ‘There are rules that have to be followed to go through a feeding session, and Amy followed all of them to the book,’ said instructor Nicolas Fourgaut, who led the shark-feeding dive. ‘She paid very good attention to the briefing, [and] displayed amazing skills of diving and self-control.’
Stuart Cove’s is one of the most famous dive centres in the world, and taking unnecessary risks is not part of its ethos. Amy’s instructor, Shaquille, is a serving commando in the Bahamian military. Amy’s father is a Retired Commando himself, her mother is an experienced diver with well over 100 dives under her weight belt, and Charlotte has more than 200. ‘[I felt] strangely relaxed,’ said Amy’s mother, Louise. ‘We knew we were diving with professionals and they gave very clear instructions on the safest way to act and behave under the water.’
Charlotte, along with her certification as Master Scuba Diver, is also a BSAC Sport Diver, CMAS 2-Star diver, lifeguard, Class 2 powerboat skipper, assists with disabled diver training through the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA), has completed a Helicopter Underwater Escape training programme and is a Sergeant in the RAF cadets. She was PADI’s first (and youngest) Ambassadiver, although this has had to take a backseat while she finishes her education.
Charlotte has been interviewed several times on television – including the BBC World Service – and was set to do a feature diving Iceland’s Silfra Fissure with Monty Halls at the age of 14, though this was cancelled due to Silfra diving minimum age requirements.
‘Being a woman in the dive industry, seeing Amy and Charlotte diving together, was truly a beautiful experience,’ said Alex Frans. ‘Charlotte and Amy are two sisters who will forever share the special bond of scuba diving. They are sure to do big things for women and children in the diving industry.’
Charlotte said: ‘I just want to show that girls and young people can achieve things. I love inspiring others, especially young children. Sometimes they don’t know how awesome they can be.