When diving around the oceans of our planet, it is easy to notice that environmental damage is everywhere.
Long lasting scars of dynamite fishing, ghost nets and anchor damage are sadly still common in some areas.
There is increasingly more media coverage of diminishing shark numbers and of the long term effects of our ever-warming planet and the uphill battle of plastics in our oceans.
There are steps we as individuals and scuba divers can take in raising awareness to people across the globe.
Becoming an eco-friendly diver is a great way to raise awareness to your diving and non-diving friends.
By correctly identifying that scuba diving in itself can carry environmental risks, it is not nearly as damaging as some of the issues mentioned above.
However, with as many as around 6 million active divers and 20 million snorkelers around the world this number is growing fast year on year.
Fortunately most of these divers are predisposed to care for the underwater world due to courses involving education in environmental awareness.
With initiatives like Green Fins, Project AWARE and closer to home Eco Koh Tao and many more backing this up. There is an abundance of guidance out there on sustainable tourism.
10 Best Tips to Become an Eco-Friendly Diver
1. Buoyancy Control
By reminding our fellow diving buddies to practise good buoyancy and practising what we preach in improving our skills, reduces risks of accidental damage to the coral reefs.
By fine tuning ourselves in this area and having good body positioning underwater, we remove our instincts to touch something. While one unintentional kick of a fin, or one stabilising grasp of a rock or coral seems innocent, adding this up over a long period of time can start to take its toll.
Furthering our education and knowledge in this area can help remove these bad habits in our diving practise. Signing yourself up for Speciality courses like Peak Performance Buoyancy are great ways to fine tune your body positioning and kicking style.
2. Choose an Eco friendly dive centre
Choosing a dive school is a very exciting and daunting quest. Every dive school offers something different whether it’s the diving sites they are visiting on each trip or the types of courses they offer.
The biggest factor that separates them all is the different dive organisations that they are teaching under.
This however shouldn’t change the importance of how they incorporate safe diving practises into their business and how they instil environmental awareness into each of their courses.
Choosing an eco-friendly dive school to dive with every time is a step in the right direction in creating a demand for environmentally friendly and aware dive schools.
An easy way to find a list of environmentally conscious operators is the Project AWARE 100% AWARE partners page or the Green Fins member listing. Even better if your thinking of Thailand for your next diving destination come and pay us a visit.
3. Don’t Feed The Fish
Feeding the fish in our Oceans may seem like an innocent and ‘helping’ act, especially in waters around South East Asia.
Pieces of bread are the most common bait used to attract fish to come close by. While doing so may seem harmless to the fish and especially the environment nearby by.
The fact of the matter is it can have detrimental implications to the ecosystem. By offering this alternative as a very easy to find snack, the fish start to become reliant on this type of habit, not to mention there is no nutritional benefit for them.
By creating a unnatural feeding environment this causes the marine life to stop eating their natural food source.
This can have long lasting effects on the entire food chain. One of the first things in our oceans to be affected by this shift in the food chain are Coral Reefs.
This is due to Damsel Fish being the main opportunist when it comes to snorkelers or divers feeding the fish. Their main food source is algae.
The same algae that competes with corals for light and space. By turning their attention away from algae and more so to hand fed snacks, a coral reef can quickly become decimated in coral numbers and spike into an algae Avalon.
4. Diving Au Naturel
Gloves are a very debated topic in the dive industry on the basis if they are needed or not.
In many dive schools now in more tropical waters they are no longer allowed. The argument being that adding an extra layer of neoprene can give divers a false sense of security.
Having a diver’s hand protected, can lead to them being more likely to touch or stabilise themselves on the reef without thinking.
Other schools will allow customers to use one glove while descending down a line to protect their hands from hydroids, however they must then be placed in the BCD pocket until it is time to ascend.
5. Correct Disposal of Rubbish
Food wrappers, plastic bottles and cigarette butts are the main source of marine pollution from humans.
Whether they are dropped on a beach or blown off a dive boat, they can cause serious harm to marine life and coral reefs.
Cigarette butts alone are the most littered item in the world. It is estimated that around 6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured each year and around 65% of all butts are littered.
This is a problem for our oceans as rain run off causes most of these cigarette butts to go on a migration of their own, sadly into our world’s oceans.
On Koh Tao there are a lot of noticeable initiatives taken to address this problem.
Crystal Dive has regular Beach Clean-ups, Dives Against Debris and recycling stations for plastics and cigarette butts and collections are taken to the main land for proper disposal.
Choosing a dive school that has measures in place is a step in the right direction in making other dive schools follow suit.
6. Don’t Let it Go Unnoticed
Creating awareness and educating other divers in environmentally friendly practises is no easy feat.
By acknowledging positive attitudes like environmentally focused dive briefings or the correction of potentially harmful behaviours underwater by dive centre staff, can go a long way in helping them to continue their efforts.
Most staff members are aware there is a need for coral reef and ocean protection, however letting them know how amazing their actions are can help to keep supporting them in their endeavours to keep protecting our reefs.
Next time you are out on a dive trip, keep an eye out for positive environmental attitudes and let them know how good they are doing. You might just make their day!
7. Remember your Right to Refuse
It is becoming more and more evident that one of the most effective ways to protect our worlds reef as an individual is to leave seafood off your plate.
Overfishing is one of the biggest threats listed to our Oceans as well as bycatch. Refusing to purchase unsustainable fish options like parrotfish, snapper and grouper which are detrimental to the reef’s ecosystem will help lower the demand.
As consumers we all have the power to limit the supply by helping lower the demand needed to match it.
If you must eat seafood then make sure that it is a sustainable source and if you are unsure then don’t be afraid to ask. If the supplier cannot confirm then simply don’t eat it.
8. Start Shopping in A Sustainable Way
It’s an age-old tradition that when visiting beautiful countries around the world, to bring souvenirs back for your friends and family or to simply remember these awesome memories.
One of the most purchased souvenirs worldwide are shells causing international trade in them to be a huge market.
The molluscs that create and reside in these shells play a vital role in our ocean’s ecosystems.
Algae grazers keep the fine balance between overgrowing reefs, and when finally broken down these shells replenish sand and maintain a chemical balance in our oceans. As humans, we are causing Ocean Acidification.
By refusing to purchase shells and other ocean decorations, you are already making a difference in not being a part of this industry. Again, the supply for this is only caused by the demand.
9. Reef Safe Sunscreen
Everyone needs to use sunscreen at some point in their lives. Especially when a holiday or trip away includes diving. Where there is an ocean there is more often than not going to be some sunshine.
However, by covering yourself in sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun, it may be causing destruction to the very coral reefs you are about to go and explore.
One key ingredient in most sunscreens is a chemical called Oxybenzone, which has been shown to bleach corals and in some cases actually kill it.
While it doesn’t seem a big deal for one diver to apply a layer of sunscreen, when you think of the numbers worldwide this is a huge deal.
There are a wide range of ‘reef safe’ sunscreens that do not contain Oxybenzone and by choosing these alternatives you can protect not just your body but the coral reefs of our oceans as well.
10. Take Only Memories & Leave Only Bubbles
A lot of research has shown that divers taking cameras have the most amount of coral reef contact during their dives.
This can often cause corals to break off whilst they are trying to steady themselves trying to capture that amazing shot.
As mentioned above, working on your buoyancy can be a positive way of getting better shots through your dives in an environmentally friendly manner.
It also never hurts to ask your guide to help steady you or even take the photo for you.
Practising on land with the camera first can also eliminate the time taken to get into position whilst tweaking the settings during your shot.
It is very important that all photos are taken in a respectful and natural manner. This may mean being very patient during shots, whether it is waiting for that goby or shrimp to come back out of hiding, or a huge whale shark to turn back around towards you.
One thing is for sure, never touch, chase or harass marine life whilst diving with cameras.
Ask your guide for local guidelines on distance from marine life and rules on flash photography. Look at the Bigger Picture.
It is important to realise that as just one person we can still make an impact with our decisions and to never believe that our sole actions are inconsequential.
The correct decisions you make on every dive in reality can make a rather big difference.
We are in a better situation right now to see what is really happening to our world’s oceans than ever before.
By becoming an eco friendly diver or snorkeler for that matter, together we can be in control of the future of our coral reefs.
Kieran Hooley #364105