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In BOP Faces, we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition, diving instructor Danijela Podlipec explains how she helps to keep the coral reef alive and how she manages to care for the environment in her daily life in Punta Cana.

Serbian Danijela Podlipec (40) is in her element at Blue Vision Adventures on the beach Playa Blanca where she works as a diving instructor. Her hair is constantly blowing in her face, but that does not stop her from smiling. On the contrary, enthusiastically she keeps talking about her love for diving and the environment. “When I am diving I feel relaxed. It is quiet, and I am floating. I don´t know how to describe it. Underwater I am mesmerized,” Danijela says.

Underwater nurseries

It is underwater where Danijela also takes care of the environment. “A lot of people are not aware that coral are animals. Because of the overuse of electricity, plastic and overfishing of the ocean, the circle of life is disturbed. The coral also protects the beach. That is why we do coral gardening in the ocean. By setting up iron frames and attaching damaged coral to it, it has the chance to regrow. We call these nurseries.”

“We are spreading the word about the damaged coral and that is why you can get your Coral Reef First aid certificate with us. After people get their certificate they can´t go out by themselves and set up nurseries. This must always be done under supervision. It is really needed to check the nurseries right now, but we can´t, because of the weather, it is too windy.”
“The weather has a big influence on the underwater life. After hurricane Irma, this big Elkhorn coral disappeared. It takes about 100 years to grow to that size.”

“Did you get the beer?” Danijela stands up to talk to the owner of the diving school Mark. “It is for an excursion later,” she explains. At the same time a client comes in and she is having a conversation with him too. “They call me versatile Danijela,” she laughs loudly.
And versatile Danijela is. In Serbia, she worked at a Publishing house as Director of Accounting. But when she met her partner Micky her life changed. Micky a diving instructor, also born in Serbia, swept her off her feet. During the first years with Micky, she obtained her PADI diver certificate (Professional Association for Diving Instructors), to continue to obtain her Dive Master certificate afterward. It was in 2015 in Cyprus, where she passed her PADI diving Instructor course.

“I got my dive instructor certificate and had an interview on the same day to go to work in Malaysia. The sea life there is colorful and amazing. Unfortunately, the company where Micky and I worked was not that environmental. Boats with old engines packed full of people. So, we decided to leave. We got in touch with Mark through a post on the PADI website. After a lot of interviews, we ended up here 3 years ago.”

Teaching kids

“We have about 60 to 70 divers in Punta Cana that have their Coral Reef First Aid Certificate.”

Not only adults are involved. Danijela teaches kids at the Punta Cana International school about the importance of the coral reef too. The children also have the chance to obtain their First Aid Certificate and volunteer to garden the coral too.
“If I have to choose between teaching 2 adults and 3 kids, I choose the kids. From 10 years old kids can scuba dive. They really enjoy it and they are so nice. They have no fear and they listen too! I have a lot of fun. It is also serious because everything needs to be under control. After the last dive, I get a huge hug and a thank you. I really appreciate that from my job.”

Taking care of the environment daily

But what does Danijela do herself do for the environment in her daily life?
“I bike to work every day. I don´t have a car and no plan to buy one. The air conditioning, I don´t use. I keep the windows open. A water bottle I use to refill water and I buy local stuff to support the local community, but also because there were no airplanes used to import those products. At the supermarket, I use my own bag instead of plastic bags. When I walk down the beach I always come back with something, because I collect plastic cups that I see. At our dive spot, we also do the cleaning of the debris that is left in the water.”

Favorite place in Punta Cana

“My favorite spot in Punta Cana is a dive site, which is 5 minutes from the coast by boat. There is a coral nursery. It is quiet, and it is nice moving around. You find peace in your mind. Francois, a big old Barracuda is also around. We see him all the time.”
Danijela touches her handmade necklace with turquoise stones that come from the Masai from the Kilimanjaro. It was a gift. This color of the sea also happens to be her favorite. At that moment 4 people return from their excursion and she is up and running again.

If you want to obtain your Coral Reef First Aid Certificate and help to regrow the Coral, contact Blue Vision adventures in Punta Cana.