Rising senior at Greenwich’s Stanwich School dedicated to coral restoration
GREENWICH — Henry Hittle turned 18 in Belize this summer while fulfilling requirements for his Master Scuba Diver certification.
The Stanwich School soon-to-be senior began working toward his certifications three years ago after an influential eighth-grade trip with the school to Key Largo, and now wants to keep climbing the ladder.
“When I first got into it, I didn’t know what to expect really,” Hittle said over a bowl of warm cereal at the Drawing Room in Cos Cob Wednesday. “But I immediately fell in love with it. I started getting really into it, moving up the ladder to rescue diver — it’s the equivalent of an underwater lifeguard — and I’m working my way up to Master Diver, and then Divemaster.”
The certifications serve a dual purpose — fulfilling the young diver’s passion to surpass ordinary physical human limits while exploring the deep sea, and qualifying him to volunteer with organizations like the Coral Restoration Foundation without putting himself, other people or coral in danger.
“It comes down to passion,” said Hittle. “Being more experienced as a diver opens up more opportunities or you to volunteer for a cause you like, like coral restoration.”
CRF uses coral nurseries to help existing coral regrow, hanging them like ornaments on deep-sea trees. Hittle puts his diving skills to use through helping the foundation in its nurseries.
“I never knew about the ecosystem or dangers to the coral reefs” before the school trip, Hittle said.
Going into his senior year at Stanwich means finishing his Moral Leadership Project — one that all Stanwich students begin planning in their sophomore year and finish before graduation — and his topic fits his calling.
Hittle chose coral reef protection and restoration: spreading awareness of the threats coral reefs face and sharing information on how ordinary citizens can help make a difference.
He has been sharing news and information through his Facebook page, “Cool Coral,” since his junior year at Stanwich — a page that has garnered more than 1,200 followers from 31 different countries.
The young environmentalist also uses the site to repost information and news on coral reefs from scientific pages including National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and CRF — where he channels most of his efforts.
“I started the Facebook page teaching about what anyone can do — anywhere you are you can affect it,” he said. “Like farmers using less acidic pesticides, and reducing the acidity of the water” that flows down to coral reefs.
And three years after that first trip, Hittle is still going strong, going further in-depth than he imagined.
Last weekend he went to Key Largo after winning a dive package from the CRF gala. He was accompanied on the trip by Upper School science teacher Dana McNamee, and IT Specialist Jeff Magliola. McNamee and Magliola are scouting the area for when the senior class will take a trip to MarineLab in March, said Laura Dianis, communications director for Stanwich School.
Hittle’s mother, Lisa Bailey gives her full support, but also admits that watching her son dive makes her nervous sometimes.
“The goal of the Stanwich school is to make God’s world a better place, and Henry’s moral leadership project makes God’s world a better place,” she said.
“He’s got, I don’t now, 79 or 80 hours already logged in ocean dives and everything,” she said Tuesday. “He’s a recreational diver, deep diver. I just watched a video of him doing a deep dive — I mean they had a big bull shark with him at the Aquarius Reef! I don’t know how he does it.”
In finishing his project, Hittle will return to CRF in October to plant coral in the Aquarius Reef — a highly restricted area where only NASA astronauts in training and researchers are permitted to dive.
In addition to planting the coral when he goes down during a senior class trip, he is collecting donations for CRF.
The perseverance of dive training is typical of Hittle, said Jerome Murphy, head of Stanwich Upper School.
“Henry stands out as such a compassionate and morally well-grounded member of our school community. Henry’s success as a student---consistently enrolled in AP and honors level classes---can be attributed to his incredible work ethic and his desire to always go above and beyond,” Murphy said.
At Stanwich, Hittle is leader of the robotics team, a program he helped start three years ago, Murphy said.
“Henry has been committed to coral reef restoration for a number of years and this commitment is further enhanced by the path he taking to become a professional diver. ...Henry embodies all of the values we strive to instill in our children. He is a role model for his peers as well as for the adults in the Stanwich community,” Murphy said.