If the blue hair wasn’t already a giveaway, Zandile Ndhlovu is channeling her inner mermaid.
A South African nine-to-fiver turned free diver, Ndhlovu says the ocean is the only place she’s felt a sense of belonging.
Yet the 33-year-old only discovered that feeling five years ago during an impulsive snorkel trip in Bali. “It was just the most incredible moment when I stopped panicking from thinking that I was drowning and just realizing the incredible world that was under there,” Ndhlovu tells CNN.
Fear gave way to excitement and soon she owned the sea – getting certified in everything from scuba diving to free diving – but she took note of its lack of diversity.
“When I got into this ocean space, for two to three years, I was always the only Black person on the boat,” Ndhlouvi says. “I had never seen another diver who looked like me.”
After she became South Africa’s first Black African free diving instructor, she says she felt a responsibility to make the ocean a more inclusive place.
Ndhlovu created The Black Mermaid Foundation, titled after her self-given nickname, with the intention of getting more people of color into the sea. “Where that (name) came from was just the realization that there were no Black mermaids exploring in the water the way that I was. And what followed was wanting to create representation around that,” she says.
Related: Photo series shows why Afric