Do you absolutely love to go diving? To explore unseen depths, immerse yourself in a coral reef community and witness underwater landscapes that others would only dream about? Why of course you do, it’s awesome! As divers we have the absolute privilege of experiencing this world, though with great privilege comes great responsibility (sound familiar?) and as divers we are ambassadors for our ocean.
So here’s the concept, and it’s a simple one really: to continue enjoying this marine world, you must protect what you love. Coral reefs have been around for thousands of years, yet due to human impact we have lost over 50% in the past 30 years alone. So we need to do better or we could lose this ecosystem forever. Now I’m not saying you must strive to become the next Sylvia Earle, well, that would be great actually, but let’s start on a smaller scale, with 5 ways that YOU can become an environmentally responsible diver.
1. Choose environmentally responsible dive companies/ tour operators:
If not implemented with care and consideration, diving can have harmful impacts on the reef. Inexperienced boat captains who drive too close to the reef could risk scraping along shallow corals, as well as dropping anchor onto the reef instead of mooring up to a fixed buoy, or even dive guides who encourage irresponsible diving practices such touching, teasing or picking up docile creatures to convince their divers of a more ‘engaging’ experience. These are all big no-no’s.
Next time you’re planning a dive trip and considering which school or company to choose, as well as weighing up safety, price and professionalism, make sure you also research their commitment to protecting the underwater environment.
Here are some badges to look out for on their website, which they should display with pride!
2. Perfecting your buoyancy:
Buoyancy is by far the most important skill for you to master as a diver. Without it, divers can stir up any sensitive bottom type with uncontrolled movement and reduce visibility, possibly even creating a washing-machine effect for smaller critters innocently living on the substrate. Lack of buoyancy control could also lead to divers knocking into living fragile coral structures, some of which are armed with protective stinging ‘hairs’ that are sure to leave you with an uncomfortable lasting burning rash (hence the name fire coral), so it really is in your best interest to keep your distance and be in control.
If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend that you take the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty course to practice these skills with an instructor before heading straight out to hit the reef (not literally).
Proper trim, breath control and efficient fin kicks will aid you in becoming a buoyancy pro, ensuring that both you and the marine life are safe from harm.
3. Be aware of your seafood consumption:
We are all adults here, so I am not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat, but it is a no brainer that eating seafood has a direct impact on what you see on your dives, and more importantly, on the ecosystem as a whole. “But I don’t eat turtle, stingray or shark” I hear you say, well you may not, but your Friday night fish n’ chips and your famous shrimp curry is part of a bigger picture. Did you know that by 2048 the world’s oceans are predicted to be completely emptied of fish? That’s just 27 years.
The increasing demand for seafood is driven by an ever-growing population of consumers, resulting in severe overfishing. With the world human population estimated to reach almost 10 million people by 2050, the ocean is simply unable to renew the number of fish that we consume.
Stop being so shellfish! If you’re not willing to commit to an entirely seafood-free diet, then you can still be a part of the solution. Only buy your seafood from sustainable sources and look for product certification and eco-friendly labelling on your food. Do your research! Do not support fisheries that damage the reef and remove threatened or key reef species. If possible, opt for consuming an invasive species in your local area, for example: Lionfish in the Caribbean. As a whole, if you significantly reduce your seafood consumption or stop contributing to the demand altogether, then we have a fighting chance at preserving the ocean’s ecosystems.
4. Organise or participate in a local beach clean or Dive Against Debris:
It’s no secret that our planet is suffocating from plastic pollution. Thanks to the millions of tons of plastic that is dumped into the ocean every single year, it is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Just let that sink in… Suddenly your future diving vacations aren’t looking so appealing.
Let’s clean up! Even if you don’t live by the coast, plastic can still enter the ocean through streams and rivers, so any clean up that you can organise or get involved with in your local area is making a huge difference. You can either get creative and upcycle the collected plastic, making for a fun art project, or ensure that it is responsibly disposed of.
Project AWARE is a non-profit organisation that works closely with divers to protect underwater environments. They created Dive Against Debris, both a PADI Specialty and a global movement to get ocean ambassadors cleaning up. On average, around 90% of all marine debris sinks, therefore land based clean-ups can only tackle so much. Whether you organise a visit to clean up a dive site that is known for its plastic pollution, or you create a new habit to carry a mesh bag with you in your BCD pocket, you will be well on your way to contributing to the solution.
5. Be a role model!
You may not think it, but other divers look to you for an example. It doesn’t matter if you are taking your Open Water course or you’re a Divemaster who is leading a group of fun divers, your actions are noticed.
Safety permitting (always), make an effort to reach for that floating plastic in the water column, or carefully unravel that fishing line from a branching coral. You can politely remind your dive buddy of their (lack of) buoyancy control, or kindly point out the difference between a coral and rock: “one is a living animal and must not be touched, the other is a surface that you may waft before pushing off with one finger if you find yourself too close to the reef”, for example. If others witness you displaying this eco-friendly responsible behaviour and dive etiquette, then you may very likely inspire and encourage them to do the same.
Though this role model behaviour is not limited to the dive community, you can also emulate your eco-warrior persona in front of your friends and family. By living a sustainable lifestyle and showing respect for the environment, others will notice and follow suit. Introduce your Mum to a new plant-based recipe, gift your best friend a reusable coffee cup and support candidates that promote eco-friendly policy decisions in government.
Try, share and apply these 5 recommendations and you’ll quickly become the environmentally responsible diver that the ocean needs!
http://www.secore.org/site/corals/detail/coral-reefs-are-dying.23.html https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/oceans/overfishing-statistics https://www.projectaware.org/news/project-awarer-collects-1-million-pieces-trash-ocean