We recently had the honour of having a chat with the first and the only Maldivian PADI course director up to date. He is one of the first Maldivian divers to get certified and he’s among the first few divers that got to explore the coral gardens of Maldives. This year marks his 30th year at being a PADI member and we got to hear about some amazing projects he has worked on, his work at conserving our environment and his thoughts on dive education as well as diving as a profession. At this point I don’t think an introduction is really necessary for any Maldivian diver to realize whom we are referring to.
We would like talk about none other than Husen Rasheed or as he’s commonly known as Sendi.
We started out by asking Sendi about his unusual nickname and he explained that back in school his half-brother who is roughly his age gave him the name so as to not use generic names such as kokko or beybe. It actually started out as sendigo so he still has old classmates that would call him sendigo instead of sendi.
As for his love of the ocean he gives full credits to his father who used to take him to hulhule’ to swim and collect rocks to build their house. His father loved the ocean so Sendi grew up with the same love instilled in him from a young age. Back when Kurumba wasn’t a resort, he remembers heading there with handmade poles to fish for mushimas. When tourism was introduced his father was one of the first people to get into local tourism.
Around 1975 the tourists that visited would bring their own masks and that’s how Sendi first got to see the underwater beauty of Maldivian reefs. The ocean was always a part of his life and he even remembers snorkelling with Sarudhaaru Dhombe who was the first Maldivian diver. For him the diving scene from back when he started and how diving currently is hasn’t changed much because the corals are just as beautiful and marine life is good. He has seen a lot of positive changes and that’s always something to look forward to.
As for his introduction to diving, he got a regulator from his brother-in-law who was an Australian commercial diver. At the time BCD’s were not used and a plate that fits the back has straps on it, which keeps the tank in place. The only additional gear is weights and the regulator had only one hose. He got a tank from Lakudibo and went with him on his very first dive to Maldives Victory. Since he was already swimming and snorkelling he found the experience much easier since he could now explore without the restraints of having to come up for air.
When asked about their concern for safety Sendi explained how at the time when there were no dive watches, his friend Musthag would keep track of their tables and plan out their dives including safety stops. Everything was done manually and their trips were always an adventure.
Photography was always a key interest for Sendi and he recalls attempts at trying to take an underwater photograph with Musthag by sealing a camera in a mask. It didn’t work out quite as they had planned, however, they worked hard and eventually got a proper metal housing. They were still limited to being able to take just 36 pictures and an entire month’s hard-earned salary had to be spent on just cleaning the film. Eventually to overcome this issue he learnt how to develop pictures in his house.
Even though Sendi’s first dive was in 1981, he only became certified as an open water diver in 1986. He completed his courses one after the other and in about a month and a half he was certified as a dive master.
Being naturally artistic he loves oil painting and won several awards for it in school. He was also a passionate photographer and videographer and after becoming a guide he would document the dives he took his guests on, process the content and provide his guests with the footage on the same day. After spending about 5 years as a guide he decided to become an instructor so that he could start teaching others. His first attempt was unsuccessful and he was told it was an impossible feat. However, now that he knew how to prepare for his exams, he came back in 6 months and in 1991 he was certified as an instructor. By 1995 he was a staff instructor and he started teaching at IDC and five years later he was certified as a course director. Throughout his career, Sendi has certified over 1500 students at different levels.
When asked about how he felt about being the first and only course director Sendi explained how it is an elite position that only a limited number of people are eligible for each year. One would have to compete with hundreds of other applicants from around the globe to achieve the title. He only wishes that more students would aim for the position and he encourages divers that want to pursue higher professional education in the field to go for it since nothing is impossible with hard work and determination.
Since our careers are based in the ocean Sendi advises divers to opt for a healthy lifestyle. Diving is a physically enduring workout and divers have to eat properly and on time if they want to stay in shape. He was personally surprised how during a recent trip to India he managed to climb up and down 1050 steep steps within the time frame of an hour. A feat he doesn’t believe he would be capable of if he had a desk bound job. He also has not owned a motorbike in four years and prefers to walk.
We asked if he went diving while on vacation and Sendi named a few destinations such as Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia as some memorable dive spots he’s been to. However, his favourite dive destination remains as Maldives as he claims “Raaje vareh nuvey”.
One of his other interests walk on all fours and doesn’t live in the sea. He is quite fond of the wild pack of twenty or so cats that have lived generation after generation around his home. He finds them fascinating as they each have their own character and place in the pack and his family knows every single one of them by name.
As for future plans, he’s hoping to settle down, stay off the grid and continue studying marine life.
Sendi recalls how back in the 90’s it was impossible to spot a turtle in Male’ atoll. Postcards were extremely famous and he got a request to take a picture of a turtle. By the time they got the shot they were all the way at Meemu atoll.
As far as turtles are concerned things are definitely changing and we have seen massive improvements. Sendi grew up at a time when there wasn’t a lot of awareness and it was common to eat turtle meat and eggs. The
impact of our actions were not know at the time and a lot of pressure was created to stop the trade and protect sea turtles.
Sendi credits his love for the ocean and his curiosity to his father Ismail Rasheed who even exchanged letters with a US zoologist and sent them boxes and paintings of shells to try and identify them. His father actively carried out campaigns to create awareness back when people didn’t even know what a coral was. It was his innate love for the ocean that made him realize that the turtle population was decreasing and that something had to be done to protect them. Back in 1980 a campaign was started to save the turtles using stamps and foreign newsletters published articles regarding the “Save the turtles” campaign being carried out in Maldives.
We are a country that conserves sharks and we have strict laws against capturing them. However, we do not stop their jaws being sold as long as they are imported. This terrible loophole only leads to a black market since sellers can now just claim that what they sell is imported.
The conservation projects carried out to protect sharks has gone well seeing as how between the years of 2000 to 2010 almost 800 tonnes were exported to major European countries. By bringing an end to this, sharks such as hammerheads, tiger sharks and even silver tips are finally slowly returning and Sendi predicts that in about 5 years we would be able to see a major change in the shark population. He remembers how back when he started diving he saw about thirty to forty grey sharks at just 9 meters depth every time he went diving at Lion’s Head, hopefully someday soon we’ll get to experience this as well.
The bottom line though is that when the buying stops the killing can too.
Back when Sendi started diving there was only a handful of people who saw what goes on beneath the waves. It’s only human nature to not hold much value to things you don’t see right in front of your eyes. We take our country for granted in the sense that we don’t realize that we are literally laying in the middle of the Indian Ocean, yet our country was formed with such a strong defense system against the elements that keep us safe from harsh weather.
Sendi believes that Maldives was initially a mountain range upon which rich coral gardens grew. As the corals reached the surface they bleached and broke off to form sand and years of accumulation lead to the islands being formed. If we take a closer look there are several factors that protect our islands starting from the trees such as Magoo at the beachfront, then the sea grass and finally the coral reefs.
We have to make sure all of these defenses are protected in order to keep our islands safe and this is not a luxury that concrete islands will be provided with. We have to realize at this point that we exist on such a delicate environment and that we obviously need to take more caution when playing around with it.
Sendi is currently working on monitoring coral bleaching and he has been trying to create awareness for this issue for quite some time. Environmental issues like this need to be stopped from getting swept under the rug since it will inevitably directly affect the lives of the people that live on our islands. Even the smallest act such as removing sea grass can lead to a chain of problems. Sea grass is responsible for providing nutrients as well as oxygen and a breeding ground for marine animals. Imbalances caused by the removal of sea grass can negatively affect our fishing industry as well. We are taught from a young age that fishing and tourism are our country’s main lifelines. They are the geese that lay our golden eggs. It’s about time we started doing everything in our power to protect these blessings. Some coral reefs in Maldives are completely safe from bleaching and we need to work to keep it that way.
Even though we depend entirely on the ocean for our income we are the ones responsible for slowly but surely destroying it. We need to stop collecting data at this point and take action to release the stress on the environment. We already know the cycle of weather patterns, which affect the ocean such as how the heat in March leads to coral bleaching. We need to halt the factors that damage the environment such as dredging and removing sea grass at least during these months so that a bit of the stress will be taken off.
As for helping our coral gardens flourish, Sendi personally initiates projects to create artificial coral gardens where he lets tourists take part in the process of building nurseries. These projects can be used as a teaching process so that people are made aware of these issues. It helps people become a part of the solution especially at a time when there’s not a single island upon which projects for dredging are not taking place.
Sendi was lucky enough to be one of the first people to have dived at the victory wreck and it was also where he went on his very first dive. Sendi fondly remembers how fascinating the ship was while it was still intact. He remembers turning the wheel and playing with the gears as well as taking a look at all the equipment on board.
However, this makes it especially tragic for him to see what the dive site is now reduced to. Not even the portholes have survived the hands of divers who wanted to take a bit of victory back home with them and now the ship is just a skeleton with its bones picked clean.
Sendi believes that the victory site is nothing less than a national heritage of the Maldivian people and most of us don’t even realize it’s located just a couple minutes away from Male’. Sadly the terrible concept of “out of sight out of mind” applies at this remarkable dive site where there are no conservation efforts being carried out and no rules regarding wreck diving to stop people from doing as they please. There are no laws protecting current wrecks and not a lot of people realize the history behind these wrecks.
Victory was a ship carrying goods for the people of Maldives and at the time ships carrying cargo from Singapore were extremely limited. It ran aground on 13th February 1981 and sank the following day. If we want to ensure that future generations get to experience these sites we need to put in greater efforts to ensure that laws protect these wrecks just as they protect other sites of heritage.
For now Sendi is quite happy with the diving community as there are so many people actively taking part in the sport. He would like to see more students pursuing Marine Science as a profession.
His recalls a recent encounter with a professor who was studying sea urchin tests, locally known as raalhu bis, through a microscope for 12 days in order to study how something so fragile could wash up on shore intact. If you think about it nature really is quite fascinating and we have a lot to learn from it. A boxfish for instance doesn’t look like the strongest fish in the sea, but once we take a closer look we realize just how amazing and structurally resilient its skeleton is. We can use the information we gather from nature’s engineering in order to create amazing structures that are lightweight yet robust. In Sendi’s opinion, if major universities choose to conduct their field studies in Maldives, it should be so much easier for us to do this with direct access to the ocean at any given time.
One of the most rewarding projects that Sendi has accomplished to date is starting the very first University level dive school. It was the first dive school fully owned by a Maldivian and since its establishment Sendi and the current Dean Anna have tirelessly been working to enable students to develop their careers in an exciting and interesting field.
It started out as an institution teaching marine studies and hospitality in 2006 and by the end of 2007 it was being run under Villa College. He wanted to provide the opportunity for students to choose the field as a part of their A level standard education and therefore a unique opportunity now exists where students can learn the basic subjects such as Mathematics and English then choose to be certified as a water sports assistant or become certified to be a diver. Additional courses such as life guard courses and photography courses help to mold students to be more versatile in this industry. The courses are accredited under education ministry by Canadian standards so that Dive Master is equivalent to a Degree. By the time they graduate they are heading out looking for jobs with multiple certifications for specialized skills and with A level standard education.
When students are asked to choose their field of study they tend to be reluctant to choose marine science thinking they won’t have access to opportunities. However, it’s an extremely interesting subject and if you work hard the opportunities are endless.
Sendi is also extremely proud of how successful the “Young Ocean Warrior Camp” turned out. The camp allows kids to try out scuba diving, water sports, swimming techniques and even get some hands on experience with lifeguard training equipment. They also pack resort management presentations and career development games into the two-day camp to expose kids to the field and let them see that this is also an exciting and fulfilling career choice. Sendi would like to include not just school children but possibly arrange some camps for offices in the future so that everyone gets the chance to experience these activities. We could use the camp as a fun way to create awareness and help people understand how delicate our environment is and how to help protect it.
Diving is an extremely interesting profession that allows you to constantly learn new information, meet interesting people from all cultures and backgrounds and also helps you to stay physically healthy. However, there are a lot of other professions related to the diving/snorkeling industry such as management level jobs for those of you who would much rather run things above water.
If you do pursue diving as a career you have to be able to adapt to the changes and be very disciplined. You have to be presentable and dedicated to your job. We are now technologically advanced to the point where almost everyone has access to information and resources at theirfingertips at any given time. We have to use these tools to make sure we are always up to date and well informed. Therefore, where you end up as a diver inevitably boils down to how dedicated you are. One thing is for certain though. The best thing about the job is how everyone you take out for a dive always ends up so happy.
Sendi’s main goal with starting the Dive School at Villa was to better equip Maldivians with the skills to work at higher levels at dive centres. He remembers how back in the day the only opportunity given to locals was to be a compressor boy. Things have now drastically changed and even at the dive centres run by him the employees are 70% Maldivians and 30% foreigners with a couple of the centres even being managed by Maldivians. The need for foreign employees exists since they are required to communicate with foreign customers that do not speak English. Hopefully we’ll see that change in the future as well since Maldivians are fully capable of learning new languages and while working in the tourism industry a couple of languages under your belt is always an advantage.
Another reason why diving isn’t chosen as a profession is the risk factor that a lot of parents are concerned about. It’s a reasonable concern seeing as how unless you have some experience in the field diving can seem outwardly dangerous. Parents need to realize that with the advancements brought to scuba diving it is an extremely safe sport as long as you are properly certified and follow the rules and regulations of diving. They should also see it as an extremely beneficial and valuable skill for their child to possess. In case of an emergency a rescue certified diver would not only be able to help himself, he would also be able to help others by giving CPR even while in the water. The different levels of dive certifications involve a lot of theory classes, water sessions where skills are practiced and even exams before each student is certified. Therefore, in Sendi’s opinion, a family member being a certified diver is a pretty good asset for the whole family to have.
Sendi’s main objective is always to get more people to be active in the water. It was this goal that inspired him to design the concept and handle the project as operations manager for the dive and underwater cabinet meeting held to raise awareness for the 350 climate change movement. It was extremely successful seeing as how many people were inspired to get certified just for the event. Furthermore, it put Maldives on the map for fighting climate change.
We would like to thank Sendi for all of the information and pictures included in our article and for the invaluable services he has provided for our country.