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City Weekend

Diving gives young Hongkonger the confidence to follow her dream of becoming a marine conservationist

  • Kara Ngai, 19, had always wanted to be an animal carer but her parents were opposed to it
  • Having qualified as a rescue diver, she is now pursuing a diploma in tourism, and hopes to combine her passion with a career
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 10:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 10:46am

Kara Ngai Li-yung, a 19-year-old diver emerges from the sea after collecting bags of plastic foam and beer bottles in the water. “People throw a lot of trash into the sea, there’s plastic everywhere in there,” she says.

The underwater clean-up efforts by the volunteer show her love for marine life and aspiration to be a marine conservationist in Hong Kong.

Ngai lived in Yuen Long in her childhood, and she has taken care of different animals such as parrots and fish. “Because our house is near a hill, I used to come across wild animals such as snakes in our kitchen. I felt curious more than scared when I saw them, so I kind of developed an interest in animals,” she recalls.

I felt really deflated, as my parents didn’t support my dream
Kara Ngai, diver

However, her parents were opposed to her being an animal carer and wanted her to get a university degree so that she could have a proper office job. “I remember my mother saying: ‘Are you out of your mind? There is no way you can be an animal carer in Hong Kong.’ I felt really deflated, as my parents didn’t support my dream,” she says.

Her love for animals was reignited during her trip to the Windmill Organic Farm and Animal Sanctuary in Zhongshan last year. “I took care of abused and abandoned animals such as rabbits and horses in the animal farm, and I’m sure that I wanted a career where I can protect them,” she says.

Ngai expanded her knowledge of sea animals and became a diver during her trip to Xiaoliuqiu in Taiwan last year which was organised by the campaign CLAP for [email protected] under the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Encouraged by her social worker from CLAP, Ngai decided to take an exam to become an Open Water Diver and took a sea turtle diver speciality course to become a conservationist protecting marine animals during the seven-day trip.

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“That was my first time diving, and it was a bittersweet experience as I struggled to pass the course at the beginning,” she says. As a frequent swimmer, she was confident swimming in the sea, but diving turned out to be an entirely different activity which posed a challenge for her.

“I remember I was left behind in class and I felt a lot of stress,” she recalls. “I talked to my social worker and my diving buddies about it, and I felt so much better after knowing that they would support me and give me encouragement along the way.”

Later, Ngai found that she was having problems diving because she didn’t know how to breathe underwater, “I was taught to hold my breath tightly when swimming, so I had applied the same method to diving, which was the wrong thing to do,” she says.

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“The whole experience really helped me to step out of my comfort zone and restore my confidence,” she adds. Ngai says she didn’t have much self-confidence in the past because her parents seldom praised her and she didn’t know what she was good at.

“But here, my social worker and diving buddies support my dream and acknowledge the effort I’ve put into becoming a conservationist, making me proud of the work I do,” she says. “My mother still doesn’t approve of what I do, but my father is gradually accepting – and that keeps me going.”

Ngai continued to pursue her dream by taking a diving exam in Cebu in the Philippines to become an advanced open water diver, and she completed her course to become a rescue diver in July this year.

Currently, she is pursuing a higher diploma in tourism and MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) while preparing herself for a divemaster course.

“It breaks my heart to see sea animals being hurt by us. Sea turtles eat plastic bags dumped by humans thinking it is food, and their bodies are covered in scars caused by boat propellers. I hope to protect them from further harm by becoming a marine conservationist,” she says.