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Ken Stewart Named 2018 Sea Hero of the Year

Seiko Watch of America will provide Stewart with a $5,000 reward to further his work as Sea Hero of the Year.

By Mary Frances Emmons | Updated On November 2, 2023
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Ken Stewart Named 2018 Sea Hero of the Year

ken stewart

Ken Stewart, the 2018 Sea Hero of the Year.

Ken Stewart

Ken Stewart is a busy man. When we reached him to tell him he had been selected as Scuba Diving and ­Seiko’s Sea Hero of the Year, ­Stewart, 74, apologetically said he’d have to get back to us. He was about to head out from his Nashville, Tennessee, home for a weekend of wilderness survival camping.

That drive is what led our August Sea Hero to found Diving with a ­Purpose, which teaches divers the principals of marine archaeology in order to ­foster exploration of submerged cultural treasures. The group, which initially sprang from Stewart’s work with the ­National Association of Black Scuba Divers, is particularly known for its search for the Guerrero, a slave ship that went down in Florida’s Biscayne Bay in 1827. Working with NOAA and the National Park ­Service, DWP seeks to conclusively identify Guerrero and other wrecks through many hours of painstaking volunteer ­service underwater.

Participation in DWP requires an ­intense, one-week course that ­teaches the lay scuba diver the basic tenets of ­maritime archaeology. “The African slave trade has been mostly ignored — it’s not taught in schools,” Stewart told ­Scuba Diving in August. “DWP has had an ­opportunity to bring this era to light.”

That makes his recognition as Sea Hero of the Year particularly sweet. “It’s something special to be recognized by the dive community for something you are passionate about,” Stewart says.

Stewart started diving almost 30 years ago, when “all I wanted to do was to be a recreational diver,” he says. But his passion for working with young ­people — he also co-founded both Youth ­Diving with a Purpose and the Tennessee Aquatic ­Project, which teaches minority youth swimming, diving and other skills — spurred him to do more.

Sea Heroes is sponsored by ­Seiko, which presents each Sea Hero with a Seiko Prospex PADI Special Edition SRPA21 watch, and awards the Sea Hero of the Year $5,000 for his or her projects.

“Seiko is honored to have highlighted the extraordinary work done by scuba divers making a difference for our world’s oceans,” said Munehisa Shibasaki, president and CEO of Seiko Watch of America. “Together we are able to bring continued attention and support to divers as they bring awareness to the exploration and protection of our marine environment.”

ken stewart

A diver puts her maritime archaeology skills to use in Florida’s Biscayne National Park during the 2018 Youth Diving with a Purpose session.

Ken Stewart

Stewart plans to use the prize on next ­summer’s Youth ­Diving with a Purpose session. “We are still ­partnering with the National Park ­Service on its quest to find Guerrero, but we have not found the smoking gun” — such as the ship’s bell, shackles or other conclusively identifiable ­material. “We might need a few more missions before we can say whether this is the ship.”

For its 2018 session, YDWP ­welcomed divers ages 16 to 23 from Costa Rica and Honduras as well as the ­United States, and established “­generational ­learning sessions,” where adult and young divers shared in round-­table ­discussions that went beyond ­maritime archaeology to “­issues that are affecting them in their daily and ­personal lives,” ­Stewart says.

“I think it’s very ­important that we open — and keep open — lines of communication between ­generations.”

Stewart’s true reward? “To watch young people and adults come to love the same things I love.” The Sea Hero of the Year award helps “bring a sense of awareness to the problems facing this beautiful planet of ours,” Stewart says, and for that, “I say thank you to Seiko and Scuba Diving magazine.”