Alicia Franco

Growing up in Hawaii, Alicia has been swimming, freediving, and scuba diving in the ocean since she was a little girl. Now she has made a career out of photography, ocean conservation, and education.
"The intricacy of various oceanic seascapes intrigues me. I find inspiration in submerged cathedrals and am totally that girl who visits her favorite coral head to see what fish or crabs have become its newest tenants."

When and why did did you start diving? Growing up as an island child, the ocean was my playground and, at the age of 15, I got my first job as a photographer for a snorkel tour in Wai'anae, Hawai'i. My ocean experiences evolved dramatically after I discovered freediving. Realizing the depths I could achieve on a single breath of air, I felt inspired to train my body so I could further explore my favorite environment; so I took courses and became certified as an advanced freediver. I was 21 when I completed my scuba certification. I was on my way to French Polynesia and wanted to explore the famous passes in the Tuamotus. I got my Open Water certification before that trip and then proceeded in getting my Advanced Open Water certification shortly thereafter on a trip in Grenada. Scuba diving opened so many new avenues of aquatic exploration, I can’t believe I waited so long to get certified! 

What is your spirit fish or mammal? I’m obsessed with Spotted Dolphins! In Hawai'i, we call them “Kiko”, which means “spot/freckle” in 'ōlelo hawai'i (the Hawaiian language). I love that they’re born without spots and then slowly gain them with age. Their spots end up looking like paint splatters and each animal is like a unique piece of art.

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What do you enjoy most about diving? The intricacy of various oceanic seascapes intrigues me. I find inspiration in submerged cathedrals and am totally that girl who visits her favorite coral head to see what fish or crabs have become its newest tenants.

How do you approach non-divers to get them excited about learning to dive? I take to social media quite frequently and share my experiences both on and under the water. I think sharing photos and videos is a fun way to get anyone new to the ocean excited about all it has to offer. I'm also pretty quick to touch on methods of responsible diving, especially when chatting up new or non-divers. I practice "imperfect eco-tourism” and try to lead by example: making very little impact or, if possible, leaving an environment better than I found it.

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Most memorable dive experience?  In 2018, I was working on a social media project with the Indonesian Embassy and I had the opportunity to dive around Komodo Island; I still can't believe the things I saw were real - it was like living in Finding Nemo! Never in my life did I imagine that I would be immersed in a space that was covered in such expansive, thriving coral. The multitudes of coral, fish species, and colors absolutely blew me away. I still consider it one of the best dive trips of my life. Considering how fragile coral is and how quickly it's disappearing from our planet, I know how monumentally special an experience like that is and I hope humans can work together to find a solution to protect spaces like that so our future generations can enjoy them as well. 

Dream dive: where and with who (alive or not)?  Fiji is at the top of my bucket list. Having grown up in Hawai'i, I’m pretty spoiled with epic dive sights and wildlife, but I’ve heard Fiji is pretty amazing in terms of coral abundance and shark viewing. As far as who I’d go with, I love diving with friends. My small friend group ranges from experienced divers to new divers and I enjoy adventuring with both. The dive masters/ instructors always seem to know where to look for wildlife while the newer divers are excited about absolutely everything. Having both by my side offers a really well-rounded perspective. I love seeing masks fill with water because smile lines are breaching the seals. 

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Favorite piece of Aqualung equipment? My wetsuit! My freeflex is insulating, comfortable, sleek and oh-so-fashionable. I feel like one of Charlie’s Angels in that thing! I spend the vast majority of my days in or under water between the hours of 7am and 1pm and sometimes again at night (to see mantas!) so, having a wetsuit on offers me both sun protection and warmth. I also love that it’s light, quick to dry, and easy to pack - perfect for my far-away adventures!

Diving skill you are working to improve? Breathing at a normal rate while diving deep is a skill I definitely need to work on. Back when I took the course for my Open Water certification, my instructor told us it's good to breathe "slow and steady" but she didn't give us an example of how slow.. so I breathed very very verrrry slowly. I couldn't understand why I was getting such intense migraines after diving until a friend pointed out that I was using a third less of my tank than everyone else. Since then, I’ve improved my breathing technique but I subconsciously fall into a very slow breathing pattern on occasion so, whenever my head starts to throb, I remind myself to breath a bit quicker.

What steps are you taking to improve the health of our oceans? Any advice for others who want to help? I've been using social media as a platform for ocean conservation and education for the past decade. I work closely with local scientists and have had my photos and videos contribute to published peer reviewed scientific papers. For a while, I owned and operated a small eco-safari in Hawai'i but, when I realized the strain that the industry was placing on the animals, I refocused my energy into education via virtual experiences & social media platforms. For those who want to help our oceans, there’s a whole host of simple things you can do to lessen your impact on the environment. Using reef-safe sunscreen is a great example (the only Active Ingredient should be non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). 

Any hidden talents? I can hands-free equalize, which is super handy while freediving or filming subjects underwater because I don’t have to remove my hand from the camera in order to equalize the air in my sinuses.

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