As a scuba diving instructor one of my key responsibilities, aside from teaching safe scuba diving, is to promote environmental awareness. The underwater environment is a delicate ecosystem that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years without the presence of humans, except for the last hundred years or so. From the moment we enter the water we should be completely aware of ourselves so we cause as little impact as possible. While almost all divers I have come across hold similar values, it seems that some do not.
As we are entering a completely alien environment, we should behave ourselves, but in some places you will find divers grabbing on to turtles to “hitch a ride”, or some divers enjoy making sea cucumbers void their stomachs, or some really strange people like to make pufferfish puff up, just for entertainment. We have all had experiences where we have made accidental contact with the reef, and usually no damage is done. I remember once when I was taking out a fun diver, her fin accidentally clipped a stag horn coral and a piece broke off. Despite this being an accident, she was completely mortified. That piece of coral could have taken decades to grow, but only one careless second to destroy. She understood this, and took away a lesson that she should not get so close to the reef, and if something is too hidden to clearly see, it is not worth trying to get closer to be able to see it. It is nice to see some divers get so upset when something like this happens.
On the other hand, some divers care so little about the environment they are in. They literally plough through the reef like they are pretending to be a bulldozer. To see this really is devastating, especially if the Divemaster/guide does nothing to stop it. The diving industry is very competitive, and some dive businesses will do almost anything to keep their schools on top, often at the sake of the environment. I was once fun diving with a dive operator, and one of the other guests was picking things up and grabbing onto corals in order to get a better look under a ledge, not to mention he was crashing constantly onto the sandy bottom. I signalled him to stop but got no response. After the dive I went to discuss it with the man (who was quite a bit older than me), and the response I got was surprising. He claimed that I shouldn’t speak to him about diving because he was certified before I was even born, and I didn’t know what I was on about. He also talked about his overwhelming experience compared to mine (he had 400 dives compared to my 2000…) and then asked to switch from my group. I was slightly angry from his response and told him that he may have been diving a lot longer than me, but at least when I was trained, instructors taught divers buoyancy control. Afterwards I discussed this with the dive leader, who sympathetically apologised, but he could do nothing about it, as “if I get a complaint or a bad Trip Advisor review I will lose my job”.
Unfortunately this diver had been all over the world, diving on some of the greatest reefs in the world, and probably violating them too. This is exactly the kind of diver who would travel to exotic locations, and return a few years later to say something along the lines of “The reef is nothing like it was 10 years ago”. I wonder if they ever think the reef degrades because a long line of other irresponsible divers are waiting to get their chance to smash a few corals and poke fish.
For me, the worst offenders are some photographers, who believe they have the right to do whatever they want to get the ‘perfect photograph’. While again, I have met many photographers who take absolute care not to get too near to the reef while getting their shots, I have also seen some who grab onto coral to stabilise themselves, or even worse, physically lying on the reef so buoyancy control isn’t even an issue. Some will spend 20 minutes blinding a poor creature with a bright external strobe, and some will even poke the creature to get it to ‘pose’ for them.
Although there are some divers out there who feel it is acceptable to act in an irresponsible manor, the majority are extremely against it. Photos and videos of dive guides and instructors harming or handling marine life spread like wild fire on social media sites, often with the outcome being that they lose their certifications. However as responsible divers we should not simply report any misconducts that we may witness. Education is the key, as many of the divers who act like this only do so because their instructors did while they were being taught. We need to be firm and explain why it is not acceptable behaviour, and if we see the same divers acting the same way, then we can think about getting the agencies involved. Unfortunately this is not an issue that we will see go away anytime soon.
‘Dives Behaving Badly’ was written by Mike