Sarah Richard changed the face of scuba diving when she founded the online community, Girls That Scuba, to connect mermaids worldwide, highlight ocean conservation and encourage women to give diving a go. WORDS CAROLINE WHEATER. PHOTOGRAPH SIMON LORENZ

The sea means everything to me – it has shaped my life, mainly because I was brought up in Hastings, East Sussex, where I still live when I’m not running scuba diving retreats around the world. As children, my brother Dominic and I were taught how to swim in the sea – we would be on the beach all summer long. Now that salty smell of the sea feels like home. When I’m in Hastings, I go to pick up the trash on the beach every day – we can all make a difference.

Growing up, I swam competitively for Sussex, and in my early twenties, I went travelling. A lot of the places I visited were by the ocean and I loved ducking down to see the marine life. I did my first scuba dive in 2009 in the Maldives and was hooked, getting my British Divemaster qualification five years later and going on to work in Micronesia, wreck capital of the Pacific Ocean.

When you scuba you immerse into the marine world, going further out onto the reef and observing creatures as they swim. I really love sharks – in Mexico, I swam with a group of 20 whale sharks, the biggest fish in the sea. Schools of fish are great too – like watching an underwater show – it gives you a natural high.

In 2016, I was keen to find more women to dive with, so I set up a Facebook group called Girls That Scuba. Overnight it got 100 members. Now, four years on, it has 40,000, with 138,000 Instagram followers. The community gives us a voice, both in terms of female empowerment and on issues such as marine conservation. Along with plastic, ghost fishing nets are the biggest threat and I’ve seen many sea creatures caught up in fishing line. Scuba diving is about educating and challenging yourself – when you dive in the ocean you automatically care about it.

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