05 Apr 2019 Story Oceans & seas

Diving to protect the ocean

Jessea Lu is China’s freediving Champion. Freediving is a sport that requires little in equipment compared with scuba diving. All you need is a mask, a snorkel, fins and powerful lungs that allow you to hold your breath for as long as possible. And in the case of Jessea, a video recorder, since she films her diving experience to share the beauty of nature and raise awareness of ocean conservation.

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Jessea Lu is China’s freediving champion. Credit: Jessea Lu

You started freediving when you were 29 years old. What inspired you?

My first diving experience in the ocean was during a discover-scuba tour, which lasted for about 15 minutes. I was 19 and amazed by what I saw. The idea of diving into the ocean on a regular basis planted a seed in my heart back then. It took me eight years to find a place by the sea (Hawaii) that I now call home, and another two years before I transitioned from scuba diving to freediving. Without having to set up and carry the heavy gear involved in scuba diving, I enjoyed freediving more often than scuba diving. It was as easy as putting on my mask and fins.

Why do you prefer freediving as compared to conventional diving with a tank and equipment?

Freediving is a sport. I like it because it’s challenging. I rely only on my body and mind to travel under water. Compared to conventional diving, freediving presents a new perspective to explore and understand myself. It requires undivided mental concentration to conserve oxygen. I also like freediving because it provides the unique experience of total relaxation. I enjoy being able to feel the weightlessness of my body and floating in a quiet place without any outside noise. Freediving allows me to swim freely and have intimate interactions with marine animals.

Freediving requires undivided mental concentration to conserve oxygen. Credit: Aaron Wong. ​​​​​

What does it teach you about the natural world?

Freediving has taught me many things. One of them is balance—how elements of the natural world work together. Every dive is a unique experience in which I explore nature with my body through a single breath of air. When I am far beyond the surface and a long distance away from the next breath of air, I need to swim up as efficiently as possible. If I am too slow, I may run out of time; if I swim very hard, I may not go very far because exhaustion consumes oxygen fast. Nature’s force is always greater than my mind’s. I understand the need to adapt to the force of water and resist the desire to fight against it. A balance in the freediving approach needs to be maintained to return to the surface safely. It is intriguing to test if I can find that same balance in what I do in day-to-day life.

What is your opinion about the state of our environment and what can we do to change it?

The ocean is my second home. I am saddened by the profound impact human influence has had on the health of our oceans. Over the last 10 years of traveling and diving, I have seen some dramatic changes to the quality and quantity of coral reefs, including in my home state of Hawaii. In many popular diving sites, marine animals appear afraid of humans, and marine ecosystems are destructed or deteriorating fast. It is an urgent environmental concern. Such damage can be linked to human activities like fishing, tourism and pollution. In remote regions with little-to-no human interference, animals seem curious about humans and are willing to come very close to divers. You can still find clusters of beautiful, healthy corals over two meters tall standing in water less than five meters deep. This is important to document, to respect, and appreciate the ocean’s beauty. The collective wisdom of human beings can make a positive change for our oceans.


A balance in the freediving approach needs to be maintained to return to the surface safely. Credit: Eli Dipp

What is your message to other divers and young people?

I believe that every diver is an ambassador of the ocean. Divers can share their experiences, raising awareness about marine conservation. Diving skills are important for buoyancy control as well as for general safety. Diving instructors and other professional divers should be role models for less experienced divers, and be respectful and kind to marine animals and plants. Simple things like reducing single-use plastics and supporting conservation research can go a long way in improving our oceanic conditions. If you are interested in learning how to dive, find a mentor who is not only a good technical instructor, but also someone who cares for the environment and sustainability. I hope the young generation and their future generations will have the opportunity to experience the joy and excitement of diving like I do, or better. So, act now to protect our oceans.