Outstanding Commitment to the Vanuatu Dive Industry

Christina Shaw, PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor at Big Blue in Vanuatu has provided the following story regarding Mike Crawford and the excellent results he has achieved with local divers and the diving industry in Vanuatu.

Mike Crawford, a PADI Master Instructor from Big Blue Vanuatu, recently received a PADI award for “Outstanding Commitment to the Vanuatu Diving Industry – 2013”. This award is partly an acknowledgement of the twenty-three years Mike has spent as a PADI Instructor with numerous PADI certifications under his weight belt – which in itself is a great accomplishment. However, the true stand out achievement is the fulfillment of Mike’s vision for a dive industry staffed, not by expatriate instructors, but by local Ni-Vanuatu dive professionals.

When Mike and his wife Maggie first arrived in Vanuatu there were only a handful of Ni-Vanuatu divers working in the dive resorts and none held professional diving qualifications. The situation is very different now. Today, Big Blue employs six Ni-Vanuatu PADI Instructors and three Ni-Vanuatu PADI Divemasters with more in training. Late last year, after attending a PADI Instructor Development Course run by Big Blue, five Ni-Vanuatu divers working at four different dive centres in Vanuatu qualified as PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors.

So what brought Mike to Vanuatu?
He started life on a dairy farm in Te Puke, New Zealand, left school at 16 years old and joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force, serving for 6 years.

Whilst contemplating his future on a cruise around the South Pacific, Mike bought a lei from a stall on the island of Espirito Santo in Vanuatu. The local stall owner told Mike if he threw the lei into the water he would come back to Vanuatu. Surprisingly, the very next day he was offered a job in the security department of the cruise ship, thereby returning him regularly to the tropical shores of Vanuatu.

Mike learnt to dive in Port Vila in 1988 and whenever he was off duty whilst docked there, he would go diving. Three years later he attended the PADI Academy in Sydney and qualified as a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. He ran the dive operations on the Fair Star cruise ship for three and a half years before settling in Vanuatu with his wife Maggie, also a PADI Instructor. Together they ran dive operations in Vanuatu for 10 years before setting up their own dive resort in Port Vila in 2005 – and Big Blue was born. Big Blue has grown to become Vanuatu’s only PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Dive Resort.

Mike and Maggie had worked previously with Jerry Songalapa, Luaki Nabanga and Mark Anatu. Mike encouraged them to complete PADI dive courses and all of them achieved their PADI Divemaster certification within a few years. All three still work for Mike, now with Big Blue. Jerry became a PADI Instructor in 2009. He explains “I would never have believed that I could become a PADI Divemaster, but I did. Then I would never have believed that I could become a PADI Instructor. But each time I passed the next level Mike told me I should keep studying and improving and doing better”. Jerry is now the Diving Manager at Big Blue.

Mike has taught many other local divers who have gone on to work elsewhere. Janet Moodley (née Nabanga) worked with Mike and Maggie and became Vanuatu’s first ever female PADI Divemaster. They were also instrumental in helping Janet become the first ever Ni-Vanuatu female to be employed on the cruise ships.

All staff at the resorts – not just the dive centre staff – were encouraged. Mike would share his enthusiasm for diving with the gardeners, carpenters and others and turn them into divers. He is the mainstay of the volunteers who maintain and run the decompression chamber in Vanuatu. It is not a surprise that Mike is known as “Abu” meaning grandfather. He has had such an impact on the lives of many Ni-Vanuatu that he is seen as part of their families.

Mike’s influence on the diving industry in Vanuatu can only be seen as positive. Diving with the local Ni-Vanuatu PADI Instructors and Divemasters makes for a more authentic cultural experience for those visiting the tropical islands of Vanuatu. More significantly, giving local people the opportunity to become PADI Professionals can change lives. They can work in a well-paid, secure profession where they have responsibility and are respected by their family and peers. They have the opportunity to progress and continue their education and attain further qualifications through the PADI system. They are, rightly, proud of their achievements.

Mike is a quiet and modest man and when asked to say a few words after being presented with his award he told the Big Blue staff that the success of Big Blue was down to them and all their hard work. He encouraged them to take up the mantel and, in turn, encourage their younger colleagues to keep progressing and trying to do better. Jerry, who has worked with for Mike for 15 years, then spoke on behalf of the Big Blue staff and expressed what it means to them that ‘Abu’ has received this recognition. He spoke of the gratitude felt by many for the opportunities Abu Mike has given them. “This is not just an award from PADI this is from all of us too and it’s from the heart”.

The award for “Outstanding Commitment to the Vanuatu Dive Industry” could not be given to a more deserving individual. What would ‘Abu’ Mike say if you asked him about his achievements and the award? “Not bad for a Kiwi farmer from Te Puke”!

Mike Crawford has changed the face of diving in Vanuatu.

For more information visit www.bigbluevanuatu.com.


PADI Master Instructor, Mike Crawford receiving the PADI award for “Outstanding Commitment to the Vanuatu Dive Industry”, surrounded the staff at Big Blue.

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