DAN Member Profile: Margo Peyton

Hometown: Provincetown, Mass.
Years Diving: About 25 — I have logged more than 5,000 dives!
Favorite Diving Destination: Anywhere I can teach kids to dive safely.
Why I'm a DAN Member: I respect DAN because of the organization's commitment to education, safe diving and safe dive travel, which also reflects our company's core values.

Margo Peyton enjoys a Fijian celebration during Kids Sea Camp in 2009.
In an age when most people spend much of their leisure time in virtual reality, Margo Peyton has created a way to bring families together for real-time underwater adventures. She began with a simple concept: Families who want to dive together should have a safe yet fun place to experience the marine world. Since 2001 her Kids Sea Camp has awarded more than 5,000 dive certifications, but perhaps Peyton's own measures of her success are even more revealing: More than three-fourths of all Kids Sea Campers are return participants, and the program has a perfect safety record.

AD: You started Kids Sea Camp because you had a hunch that other people would feel like you did: You didn't want to travel without your children, and you wanted them to learn to dive in a kid-centered environment.

Peyton: I wouldn't say it was a hunch; it was more like a dilemma. I was a single mom working in the dive-travel business. I constantly flew to the Caribbean and other dive destinations and had to leave my kids behind, which I didn't want to do. My dad was a fisherman; when I was very little he would put me in tide pools and watch me play. I wanted to watch my own kids learn about the ocean; I wanted to bring them to the Caribbean and teach them to dive in safe, kid-friendly surroundings.

AD: At some point you realized you weren't the only person who wished there was a place for families and kids to dive together.

Peyton: Carolyn Pascal, who has a long history in dive travel and publishing, has been a part of Kids Sea Camp from the beginning. We grew the idea together after we took our kids to Curacao's aquarium, where they experienced the reef from indoor tanks. We wanted them to have a real-life experience. The first Kids Sea Camp was held in Curacao in 2001, and the timing hugely influenced our development.

AD: In what way?

Peyton: After 9/11 families grew closer, and safety became a major issue. People saw that we were moms and that we brought our own kids to places where we felt safe. They realized that Kids Sea Camp programs were safe because we employed kid-friendly operators and instructors. Not many operators can justify the additional liability of teaching kids to dive. We find the ones who are capable and willing to take the extra steps necessary to provide a comfortable learning environment for families. For example, we promote the "DAN Is My Buddy" program, and most of the operators we work with enroll the kids in that program.

Margo and Jennifer Peyton fly the Kids Sea Camp colors during a shore dive off Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire in 2012.

AD: Are there programs at Kids Sea Camp for families with different experience levels?

Peyton: Definitely. I think one of the reasons we've been so successful is that we offer a range of activities and educational presentations, including underwater naturalist, photography and video courses as well as wreck diving. Families seem to love learning and improving their diving skills together. We just certified one of our first Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth (SASY — a program for ages 5-7 from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or PADI) students as an assistant instructor. Kids often move through training levels with the same group, and they stay in touch with each other throughout the year. It's great to see the kids grow up and their families reunite at different Sea Camps. We also started Family Dive Adventures, where we promote kid-friendly resorts; and my husband, Tom Peyton, and I created Ocean Wishes as a pay-it-forward program for less-fortunate kids.

AD: Most instructor programs focus on teaching adults. What are some of the challenges of teaching kids to dive?

Peyton: I love teaching kids! They are naturals in the water and are never, never boring. They get the concept of neutral buoyancy much more quickly than adults do. They have excellent open and teachable minds. I get the biggest kick out of watching the kids correct their parents, hearing them say stuff such as, "Stop using your hands. No bicycling…."

Kids dive in the calm waters off Laguna Beach Resort, Utila, during a Kids Sea Camp week in 2014.

AD: What else goes into making Kids Sea Camp a great learning experience for families?

Peyton: Educational activities are a huge part of our program. In our seminars we cover the full range of issues from plastics in the ocean to shark finning. A few years ago I introduced photography programs to Kids Sea Camp. The participants love to document their dives, and the kids who are interested in photography show much greater interest in the reef. Also I think our photography programs force kids to work on buoyancy control. After learning about how fragile coral is, no one wants to damage it.

AD: So families bond during dive training as well as educational programs?

Peyton: Absolutely. I feel that families who have participated in Sea Camp share a common thread, which includes love for diving and a sense of wonder and respect for the oceans. I believe that my job, my obligation to the large and impressionable audience I reach each year, is to educate them about the effects humans have on the planet, especially the oceans. We had an experience in the Galapagos a few months ago that really impressed everyone. Way out in those remote islands we cleaned a significant amount of plastic from the beaches. A baby sea lion even presented me with a plastic bread bag! Kids and adults were totally amazed to see plastic fouling those uninhabited islands. Hearing about it on television isn't enough. Showing them in real time how far civilization's impact reaches is one of my goals and my duty.

© Alert Diver — Fall 2014