Every scuba diver at one time or another has heard the saying “take nothing but photos, leave nothing but bubbles.” We are all lucky enough to be considered visitors of this extraordinary underwater world, and should conduct ourselves as guests.
Respecting the ocean is a huge part of being a responsible diver as well as contributing back to the ocean. And yet, we continually see everyday fellow divers ignoring these simple rules all the time.
These actions stem from sheer ignorance and lack of awareness, from new Open Water divers kicking coral to Divemasters riding whalesharks as well as recreational divers taking souvenirs such as starfish and shells. Touching marine life is never okay, so here are some tips on behavior around marine life.
Sometimes sight alone cannot satisfy a diver’s curiosity. We can all understand the natural compulsion to touch the things we see underwater including myself who can experience an urge to reach out towards a passing turtle or whale shark swimming by.
But the reason why touching the marine life we see on our dives is never okay makes sense when you think about it. We can’t let our curiosity get the better of us when we are connecting with marine life, even sometimes if we want more.
So what is the best way to interact with marine life?
Here are eight ways to preserve this underwater world and how to better observe all the marine life within it.
Be relaxed – and swim slowly
By design humans were not meant to be underwater. Marine life generally is not a fan of large creatures swimming towards them, making lots of noise and huge bubbles coming from their mouths.
GO SLOW. Guaranteed, the slower you swim, the more you will see. Basically, in order to best observe marine life, you have to behave like them. If you’re chasing fish around, they are all going to get spooked and run for cover. Not only are you not going to see anything, but you and your buddy are going to get exhausted at the beginning of your dive.
STOP & take a break
There is nothing better during a dive than to stop diving and take a break. Stop swimming and hover motionless, this is a great invitation for some fish to become curious and come right to you.
Find a nice spot and stop and you’ll be shocked at what amazing little creatures will catch your eye, things that you simply may have missed if you kept on swimming. This also allows you time to take photos if desired and do it in a proper way, so not to disturb the marine life around you.
Move forward, SLOWLY
If something catches your eye that you would like to get a better look at and get a little closer, move towards it nice and slow. SLOW is our key word. We don’t want to scare away the specific thing we are attempting to get a better look at so make sure the creature is comfortable with your approach.
A great example of this is when marine life want a little cleaning themselves; they move closer towards a cleaner wrasse. It’s always a good laugh when the cleaner wrasse thinks you need a cleaning as well and gives you a little nibble.
Position yourself and Equipment Properly
When diving we should always be aware and thinking about our position and our equipment underwater. Many aquatic organisms are extremely delicate and can be harmed by a bump of a camera, swipe of a fin, or even the softest touch of the hand.
We need to check that all our hoses as well as our body are clear of any aquatic life that can be damaged. Also where are you? Are you positioning yourself in a way that threatens marine life, or possibly your own? Are you between a fish and their nest?
Could you be positioned in front of a whale shark trying to swim away? Any of these circumstances can pose harm to marine life or to yourself, so be careful.
Respect life over the thrill of the chase
Whatever you do, DO NOT chase marine life. No matter if it’s as big as a whale shark or as small as a nemo, fish are natural swimmers and we are not. Not only are you going to spook all the marine life around you, but by chasing this animal you will never get closer, because they will simply just swim away faster.
By chasing marine life you are actually going to see less, as well as ruin the dive for any other divers trying to observe the same things. There is nothing worse than finally getting to see a whale shark and you have a group of divers chasing it away off the dive site.
Giving the animal space and respecting them is a huge part of diving and will give everyone a better diving experience. Whale sharks are common in Koh Tao on multiple dive sites, here are a few tips for how to act when you see one. Never swim straight at it, give them a 3 meter perimeter, and you don’t ever want to use flash photography when trying to capture a picture.
Touching underwater creatures and corals can not only harm them, but you as well. Many marine animal injuries have occurred because of divers getting too close and making the animal feel alarmed, disturbed, or aggravated which triggers a defense mechanism.
Even more important than our own safety is the wellbeing of the marine life itself. Coral reefs in particular have a layer of mucous covering them which is antibacterial, once someone touches the coral it makes it defenseless.
As well as many animals, including turtles, rays, and many species of sharks and fish, can be vulnerable to harmful bacteria through human contact, leaving them susceptible to disease.
Don’t blind marine life
Same as us fish sleep and snooze. I don’t know about you, but if I’m sleeping and some giant comes up and shines a bright light in my face, I’m would not be too happy about it.
Night diving is one of the most incredible experiences a diver can have. So when you want to take a look at something interesting, try and shine the light next to it or try and make a circle motion around it. You will still be able to see the creature you want to look at, as well as it will also get other divers attention and they can take a look too.
Keep your diving skills sharp
There are also a few PADI Specialty Courses that will introduce you to a whole new side of diving skills as well as increase your knowledge. Not only about the marine life that you are surrounded by, but also how to interact with them.
Such as Peak Performance Buoyancy, this will help you with your buoyancy skills, which will definitely get you closer to fish while keeping the marine life safe as well as you. You could also take Underwater Naturalist Course, this will educate you on how to identify fish, and also learn where their habitats are and much more.
Finally, you could take a Fish Identification Course, not only does this help you be able to identify more fish, but you will also learn also how to place them in to the appropriate family and species groups.
As divers we can do so much good in the underwater world. Through our explorations, we raise awareness about the marine environment and its conservation. As divers we tend to be the most committed about preserving our ocean and preventing further harm to it.
We are fighting to protect our dive sites and the aquatic life that lives within them. Take a stand wherever you are diving to be an eco-tourist and be that person to make people aware of these tips for interacting with marine life and be a good example.
Give some of these tips a try, and see how many truly amazing, close-up experiences with marine life, you have.
Kira Thornton PADI MSDT 407409