The threats that plastic pollution and overfishing pose to the health of our oceans is clear — without adequate protections and corporate responsibility, we face creating irreversible damage and the collapse of some of the most important food sources in the world.
Matt Wenger, PADI Regional Manager and Ocean conservationist has dedicated a significant amount of time to drive awareness towards the impacts on oceans from human activities that are threatening the health of the world's oceans. Matt explains more about where his passion for ocean conservation comes from, the challenges and opportunities in the diving industry in an exclusive interview below:
Matt, please tell us a little bit about your journey to PADI? How did it all begin?
I started diving at a young age, fascinated by the adventure and beauty underwater. With a background in the hospitality industry in Switzerland, I had the opportunity to do an internship at a resort in the Caribbean, where I had the chance to climb the ladder in the PADI certification system during my days off. Eventually I became a PADI professional in 1998. It was very clear to me that I wanted to stay in the diving industry and pursue my dreams of travelling to some of the most beautiful countries in the world, while meeting amazing people.
Where does your inspiration stem from, in terms of becoming a professional diver and a part of the exciting diving industry? Have you always loved the ocean?
Although growing up, I was surrounded by mountains, I always loved being in the water. Scuba diving was just the perfect activity to combine both my favourite hobbies; travelling and diving.
I think my biggest inspiration was watching the adventures of Jacques Cousteau on TV as a child. And in later years, my former boss and mentor, Marco Zubrod, was a key figure in my life and I need to thank him for all that he has done for me. He shaped me professionally, which led me to where I am today.
How many dive locations have you visited around the world and which is your favourite spot? What’s next on your dive locations bucket list?
I have pretty much been all over the world, thanks to my job as a PADI Scuba Instructor, and later, as an employee of the PADI organisation itself. In my early professional years, I was mostly in the Caribbean, and then in South East Asia.
The Maldives has a very special part in my life; not only did I meet my wife there eleven years ago, but I had, as well, the opportunity to work as Dive Centre Manager for Silver Sands at Anantara, as well as for the Park Hyatt brand at Hadahaa. I was offered the PADI Regional Manager role in 2015, which allows me to travel within the archipelago and visit some of the most amazing resorts and beautiful local islands.
I’d love to explore Indonesia more – in particular, Raja Ampat. And certainly, on my bucket list would be the Chagos Islands, just south of the Maldives.
How long did it take your to become certified as a PADI Course Director and Examiner. What was the process like?
I became a PADI professional in 1998 and during the subsequent years continued my professional career. In 2011, I became a PADI Course Director in the Dominican Republic.
The PADI Course Director programme (CDTC) is very demanding and, at the same time, a rewarding experience. We were 35 candidates from all over the world participating in the two-week programme. We arrived all as strangers but left as good friends, I have fond memories indeed.
In terms of diver training certification, how would you benchmark PADI-qualified trainers?
PADI members are the most in-demand scuba professionals in the world. The success of PADI’s educational system comes from the training and preparation of PADI Instructors (including the unique Instructor Development Course and Instructor Examination), the world class educational systems that are used, as well as the dedication and professionalism of PADI members everywhere.
What are some of your proudest moments in the sphere of diving?
Some of my proudest moments must have been diving with my elder daughter and my wife. We had the opportunity to stay a few days at the Six Senses in Laamu, and the reefs there are just amazing.
I think professionally, my proudest moment was diving with our CEO and President Dr. Drew Richardson. He visited the Maldives in 2018 for an event, Euro-Divers Maldives, organised by LUX* South Ari Atoll.
If you HAD to choose, what would your favourite underwater creature to observe be?
Ufffff, that’s a tough question! I guess I would have to go with the spotted eagle ray and the juvenile box fish. But to be fair to the other underwater creatures, I actually love them all, they are all my favourites.
What is the one biggest challenge faced in the diving industry?
Our oceans are under incredible pressure from mankind’s activities – the damage caused to reefs through plastic pollution and climate change represent the single biggest threat to the diving industry.
The only way to overcome this is through sustained, long-term actions and habit-changes of the global population. PADI’s tag line – Seek Adventure, Save the Ocean – is a rallying call to divers everywhere to join us in our quest for one billion torchbearers who are ready to help make these changes.
And how, exactly, can becoming a diver or Dive Tourism in general, encourage people to look at how they treat the ocean or what they could do to conserve the marine environment?
Dive tourism is a critical part of protecting the ocean, because people are most prepared to protect the things that they understand. By introducing the world to scuba, PADI has helped raise awareness of this important issue – and by bringing together one billion torchbearers over the coming years, we will be able to instigate real change in the way the world interacts with our oceans.
What would be your key advice to the younger generations who are interested in becoming professional divers?
Diving represents a career like no other – a chance to work in nature alongside wonderful people and in incredible places. It’s not always easy, but it is always rewarding! Be sure to train thoroughly and to never stop learning!
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