Spotlight on Sergio Sandoval of Cozumel's Aquatic Sports
It’s not enough to cite scientific studies about the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Sergio Sandoval (right) wants to see “the real facts…show me what’s really going on underwater.” A mechanical engineer turned dive operator, Sergio has been photographing the reefs of Cozumel every day for almost four decades. He has witnessed increasing damage to his local reefs from issues related to climate change as well as rising pollution, overfishing, and staggering increases in tourism. According to Sergio, “There have been big changes in thirty-seven years of diving and we have to protect our reefs today!”
Providing dive, snorkeling, and fishing services through his company, Aquatic Sports, Sergio integrates subtle lessons about conservation and responsible marine practices into everything he does. Rather than giving his clients a list of no-nos, Sergio’s approach encourages people to help him care for Cozumel’s beautiful reefs. “You have to be positive,” Sergio claims. “Don’t tell people what they can’t do. Tell them how they can help. The way we treat people is the way we—and the reef—will be treated in return.”
In addition to diving every day, Sergio photographs the reef and collects water temperature, current, and reef health data to add to his decades-long survey. The statistics not only allow him to estimate daily dive conditions for clients, but they also provide the real facts he needs to show people how quickly the reefs are degrading. Armed with long-term, firsthand knowledge of his changing local reefs (right: Palancar Bricks), Sergio has become a well-known and active steward for local environmental sustainability.
But that’s not all he does. In addition to being a respected and popular dive operator, Sergio is writing a book about Cozumel’s reefs and the pioneers of the local dive industry. He contributed a chapter about coral reefs to a university text book and he regularly contributes articles and photographs to Spanish-language dive and travel magazines. He creates photo disks for his dive clients and he has designed and published a custom dive log complete with species information and reminders to care for the reef. He is working with the Cozumel Reefs National Park to create fish identification cards for local dive masters and dive shops, and his newest venture, Cozumel News, is a monthly online newsletter that he hopes to eventually publish every few days.
As busy as he is, Sergio still finds time to support CORAL and its programs in Cozumel. A humanitarian at heart, Sergio has instilled in his children a passion for the environment and a sense of responsibility to the planet. Sergio’s daughter gives up her Saturdays to volunteer in a camp for disadvantaged local kids. And Sergio Jr. (right), who earned a degree in business, has taken over the day-to-day operations at Aquatic Sports. Following in his father’s footsteps, Sergio Jr. volunteers his time to protect the local reefs. He is a newly trained CORAL Reef Leader who recently taught his first workshop in sustainable marine recreation to his fellow tour guides.
On a recent dive trip with Aquatic Sports, newly certified diver Teresa saw her first sea turtle. After watching the graceful creature swim by, Teresa surfaced with tears of joy filling her mask. For Teresa and her husband, Robbie, the experience was an extraordinary encounter with the underwater world. For Sergio Sr. and Sergio Jr., who are working hard to ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to swim with sea turtles like Teresa did, it was just another day at the office.
Photo credits: Three photos of Sergio Sr. and Jr. by Julie Bennett, Palancar Bricks by Sergio Sandoval Sr.