Nicaraguan divers have no choice but pursue dangerous work

The young men sit on the edge of the sailboat and hang off a plank extending maybe 12 feet off the side of the ship, partly to balance weight and partly for the fun and risk of swinging their legs with each rise and fall of the waves. When they reach shallower water, they lower small canoes into the Caribbean Sea and start paddling away from the anchored ship.

After the diver dips below the surface, the other man in the canoe fights against the whitecaps, looking for air bubbles to locate his diver.

It’s easy to miss the few seconds of bubbles. To lose a diver.

It’s easy to go down too deep or too many times in a day, easy to get dizzy underwater and lose feeling in the legs.

Easy—and all to common—to add another name to the list of the 565 injured divers along the Caribbean coast.

The streets of Puerto Cabezas—the Nicaraguan port city that many of these divers call home—are crowded with adult men using canes and braces or navigating the dirt roads in wheelchairs with bicycle pedals they churn with their arms. Diving deep without proper training or monitored equipment puts a heavy pressure on the human body. Bubbles in the blood can lead to paralysis, often from the waist down.

The records are informal and disorganized, but the men in this community quote statistics suggesting more than one in four divers working for commercial and industrial ships have been injured this way.

The fishing companies don’t provide any support after the men are injured. Many of the boats won’t cut their trip short to get the men to land and to a decompression chamber. Very few of the men have social security. Many depend on what their family members or neighbors can spare.

This community has no other jobs, they tell anyone who will listen. We dive because we have to. Share our story. Maybe it will make a difference.

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