Deep blue with SAMITH | Sunday Observer

Deep blue with SAMITH

Samith is equally at home on ground or in the depths of the ocean and it has been so for him since he first dived at the Station Reef in Trincomalee way back in 1994 at around the age of twelve.

Weerawarnakulasuriya Arshakularathne Busa Baduge Samith Thilina Fernando was born in Colombo but lived in Trincomalee where his parents, Weerawarnakulasuriya Arshakularathne Busa Baduge Shantha Piyumsiri Fernando and Nandani Kalupahana lived. He studied at Nalanda Vidayalaya, Trincomalee and Royal College, Panadura. The family was compelled to move to Panadura during the time of the Occupation of Trincomalee by the Indian Peacekeeping Forces (IPKF) and subsequently returned to Trincomalee.

Samith was introduced to diving by his father and with his very first dive at Station Reef; Trincomalee the young lad was hooked on diving.

He was enthralled by the colourful marine life flitting past him like angel fish. The beauty of the coral reef stunned him. Up to then, Samith’s long time ambition had been to join the Forces following in the footsteps of his grandfather and paternal uncle (Air Force) and maternal uncle (Army).But here, in the ocean depths, Samith’s long time ambition was sent skimming over the waves to nowhere as his new born passion, diving , took hold of him.

It is a passion that grows with every passing day and today Samith Fernando is acknowledged as a leading diver in Kalpitiya.Once introduced to diving Samith also embarked on commercial diving activities with his father.

They did many types of work in the Trincomalee Port and the Prima Harbour including the scraping of barnacles from ships. Samith also did water lifting for the construction of the Ashroff Jetty in Trincomalee. This involved the clearing of sand and debris to find the rock bed, and then it was drilled and concrete beams sunking to construct the harbour.

Simultaneously, the young Samith also went deep sea fishing to catch ornamental fish for his father’s business of marketing ornamental fish. Red shrimps, painted shrimps and varieties of angel fish were among the fish they supplied to dealers likeOcean Tropical Lanka in Mount Lavinia.

After his O/L examination Samith came to Kalpitiya and continued his diving. He also caught and marketed shells and other permitted marine produce.

Father Shantha was an expert at recompressing divers suffering from decompression sickness in the ocean itself. Normally, this is done in the chambers of the Navy. He had also brought Samith through bouts of decompression.

In 2006, tragedy struck when people in a white van took away Shantha Fernando and all efforts to trace him by his family to date have proved futile.

Samith suffered an attack of decompression sickness and there was no father to recompress him and this was the catalyst for Samith to seek PADI certification. He received his PADI Open Water Certification in 2007under the Guidance of Jayantha Ranawickrama. This enabled Samith to operate at a maximum depth of 18 metres . He did his PADI Advanced Course with Lakshman Muthugoda and qualified in 2016. This certification enabled him to operate up to 30 metres, deep dive and night dive and wreck dive. Samith trained under Muthugoda till he obtained his Assistant Instructor’s Certification in 2016. In 2011, he obtained his Emergency First Aid Response Qualification and Rescue Diver Certification. Samith became a Dive Master in 2012.

A Swiss national Maciej G Slupinski befriended Samith and invited Samith to his PADI Instructor’s Course and Emergency First Aid Response Instructor’s Course in Switzerland and bore the cost of the training out of his personal funds. Samith did his academic and pool training in Switzerland but found the cold unbearable (16 degrees Celsius) and returned to Sri Lanka and completed his ocean training here. Then he went to Temple Adventures in Pondicherry, India for further training, sat for his exam and became a PADI Certified Instructor. He also completed his Emergency First Aid Response Instructor Course and is now a qualified instructor in this sphere.

Today, Samith is the owner of the Kalpitiya Diving centre and Swimming Academy. His wife, Niluka Damayanthi, a PADI certified diver herself handles the Administration and Financial aspects of the Academy. She and her sister Madhushika Subhashini who is also PADI certified, trains female diving students.

Samith’s loyal and committed crew comprise Anura Wijewardene, Ajantha Kumara , Sujith Prassanna, Herath Banda, Channaka Ranga and Suraj Kumara.

Samith came into contact with Arjan Rajasuriya of NARA in 1998, soon after he came to Kalpitiya. Rajasuriya told Samith about the value of reef conservation and other environmental issues.

Thus, Samith became interested in environmental conservation and today, is an ardent cheerleader for the cause of preserving the environment. Around year 2000 he came into contact with other environmental conservationists like Dr. Asha de Vos, Shanaka Wickramasuriya, Harin Gabriel and Dharshana Jayawardene and the Sub Aqua Club. Thus, Samith became more and more involved with the preservation of the environment, especially the marine environment. He also works with Prassanna Weerakkod and Sajith Subhashana for the cause of conservation.

He is currently involved in two UNDP funded projects. One is the replanting of the Bar Reef in Kalpitiya (declared a sanctuary) to conserve it. This is done by the UNDP in conjunction with the Department of Wildlife, NARA and the Sri Lanka Navy.

The other is a Dugong Conservation Project, a collaborative venture between UNDP and the Department of Wild Life. Manjula Morethenna, Wild Life Ranger overlooks the projects.

Samith is now into Leisure Tourism and operates three boats for snorkeling, diving whale and dolphin watching.

He also acts as a guide. He also organizes tours to Wilpattu, the islands in and around Kalpitiya and takes tourists around the Kalpitiya Lagoon. In 2019 Samith’s Diving Centre was awrded Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence.

Samith’s eldest son Thanusha Tilshan (13) is a diver following in his father’s footsteps. He has his Junior Open Water PADI certification while the other son Gagana Dhamsara and daughter Dhahara Yensadhi are swimmers.

Samith has no big plans for the future. For instance, he is not interested in making his Academy the biggest in Sri Lanka. A very down-to-earth person he wants to help protect the environment and be a good member of society. He is deeply distressed at what is happening in Kalpitya at present. For instance, when people are taken on tours some operators allow them to stand on the reef and many other environmentally harmful practices are indulged in according to Samith. He calls on the authorities to be vigilant and take the necessary steps to prevent such practices.

Good luck Samith, in your efforts.