Free course lures women into marine scienes

By Wena Harawira

In the Bay of Plenty, a group of young Māori women have gained diving qualifications thanks to a free course tutored by diving professionals. The initiative was started to encourage the women to pursue skills in marine science.

Rotomā is the last class for these young women learning to be free divers. They're deep diving without air tanks.

Dr Kura Paul-Burke of Ngāti Awa is a marine ecologist. Her husband Joe Burke is a commercial diver and charter boat operator. They asked hapū in the Bay of Plenty to send six young women to teach them free diving.

“I wanted to do this course because I wanted to offer young Māori women an opportunity an opportunity to maybe see themselves as marine scientists, as divers, and or a pathway forward for their future,” says Dr Kura Paul-Burke.

“Challenge them and give them an opportunity maybe to see just how amazing and capable they are, and if they put their minds to something and really try hard they really can accomplish anything,” says Joe Burke.

None of the women had ever dived before. But after six weeks of learning, they've gained experience.

“It's just good to have a lot more knowledge of the water and how to free dive properly,” says Selina Te Kata.

Kura and Joe's hopes have come true too with students looking at more qualifications.

“To do my level 6 in marine biology and yeah diving for a living,” says Taylor Tuari.

“I plan on getting my skipper's certificate, my skipper's licence so I can use my Dad's boat, go out and get a bit more experience,” says Te Kata.

Kura and Joe paid for most of the gear for the students. Their friends also donated equipment.

“We can only afford to run one course a year because we're funding it but I think it's too valuable for our young Māori women to stop now and it's rewarding for us as well,” says Dr Paul-Burke.

Despite the challenge of funding, this course for young Māori women divers will be held again in the new year