As divers, we are very privileged to personally witness the beauty of the underwater world and to be surrounded by the wonderful underwater reef ecosystem. However, it’s worth remembering that with these privileges comes also great responsibility to conserve and protect the ocean, especially coral reefs.
Coral reefs are very fragile ecosystems that are as well vital to us. Most reef-building corals live in symbiosis with algae that lives in their tissues and produces oxygen through photosynthesis. Reefs produce approximately half of the oxygen we breathe. If all the reefs would get destroyed, we would no longer exist either. In addition to that, reefs provide fisheries and are an important food source for us. They also protect the shoreline from waves, storms, floods and erosion. Because of the climate change, marine pollution and overfishing, reefs are already under a lot of stress. By reducing the negative effects of diving, we can avoid adding to it.
Being an ambassador
During your PADI Open Water Course you learn that as a diver you are an environmental ambassador. What does this actually mean? Let’s take a closer look to that:
While diving you see how our actions on land affect the ocean, for example plastic use contributing to the amount marine debris. You can suggest ocean friendly habits for non-divers, providing them first-hand information supporting your message. Promoting ocean-friendly behaviour for other divers is as important if not even more important. Next, let’s talk about ocean friendly diving practices and the ways to promote them.
As a diver you presumably love the ocean and want to minimize the negative effect diving has on the environment. In order to do that, you first need to know, what is harmful and what to avoid and on the other hand what are the good habits to promote. Let’s list some of the most important ones:
A good general rule of thumb is, we don’t touch anything underwater, no matter if it’s living or death. The oils and bacteria of our hands very likely kill the coral we touch. If we have applied sunscreen before diving, most sunscreens tend to disrupt coral’s reproduction and growth cycles. Touching marine life is not acceptable either, since it usually stresses the animals and the bacteria of our hands might lead to infections on animal skin or shell. If you absolutely have to hold on to something, then sticking your finger in sand is probably your best option, presuming you check the area for hiding marine life first.
Streamline your equipment
Dragging gauges and other equipment have a potential to cause reef destruction while diving. During your predive safety check, make sure all your equipment is secured close to your body and consider using clips for securing them. Take a final look at your dive buddy before entering the water and politely tell them if you see hoses hanging.
Fins away from the bottom
Your position in the water, the trim is important detail to pay attention to. Make sure you are properly weighted and that your weights are positioned the way that you can maintain horizontal position. Remember to adjust your buoyancy any time you go deeper by adding a little bit air in your BCD. If you are negatively buoyant, your position gets quite easily diagonal which easily leads to your fins touching the bottom. Even in sandy areas is generally good to avoid stirring the bottom, because of macro life. Learn to fin backwards, to easily get further away from the reef when needed. If you are still unsure of your buoyancy skills enrolling in a PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty course might be a good idea.
Leave only bubbles, take only memories
We should not take any souvenirs from the ocean. As an example, taking a dead sea shell might not seem so bad, if you don’t know the shell might be needed for a new home to a hermit crab. Many things have their purpose in the ocean even after their death, and removing objects might affect the natural balance of the ocean.
It goes without saying, that we are not leaving anything underwater either. It’s also a good habit to pick up trash you spot on a dive and tuck it in your BCD pocket or a mesh bag for later disposal. Some dive centres organize Project Aware Dive Against Debris dives. Their dive objective is solely to pick up marine debris and to records your findings afterwards.
Underwater photography requires advanced buoyancy skills. Taking pictures is not an excuse to hang on to coral or to place your equipment on the reef. Taking a PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy or PADI Digital Underwater Photographer Specialty course before going to take pictures on your own, develops your skills to become an environmentally friendly underwater photographer. An additional plus is that it improves the quality of your pictures as well, by allowing you to hover comfortably waiting for the perfect moment to shoot, without scaring the marine life away.
Responsible soap and sunscreen use
When choosing a sunscreen, try to choose a reef friendly option. Also applying the sunscreen well before diving gives it time to get properly absorbed by your skin. When cleaning your mask or taking a shower on a boat, make sure any soap doesn’t end up in the ocean.
You and the other divers
Following these guidelines makes you an environmentally friendly diver and chances are the other divers follow your example. The more experienced diver you are, the more probable it is that others copy your underwater behaviour. Undoubtedly you want to be a positive example promoting positive habits. You may still sometimes encounter another diver damaging the reef. How are you supposed to handle the situation?
Intervene. The ocean is our ocean. No matter if the other diver is diving in a same group with you or not, you should whenever possible, Interrupt the harmful behaviour. Simply, swim calmly to the other diver and signal them to avoid touching or to pay attention to their fins. You can also write a message on an underwater slate and show it to them. Readymade “do not touch the coral” slates with an illustration are also available. After the dive try to approach the diver privately and explain why you came to signal them underwater. It’s even possible they are not aware of the harmfulness of their actions.
Take the pledge. You can join Project Aware’s movement to follow their 10 Tips for Divers and make a difference for ocean protection. https://e-activist.com/page/20594/data/1
Hopefully still in 50 years we have a possibility to take a plunge in our miraculous ocean and admire the wonders of it. Let’s take care of it together!