Oct 2016

10 Things for Environmentally Conscious Divers to Avoid

By Roya Eshragh

10 things for environmentally conscious divers and dive schools to avoid:

1) Most Commercial Sunscreens

This might seem to go against everything you’ve been told your whole life. But hear me out. There are chemicals in most commercial sunscreens that can have devastating effects on corals. Just one drop in a swimming pool amount of water can kill the coral which forms reefs and gives home to all those colourful animals. And with all those greased-up divers jumping in right above them, 4000 to 6000 tons of sunscreen are entering reef areas a year. Predictably, corals are having a hard time adjusting. Try covering up from the sun with SPF infused rash vests or wetsuits. And if you need more protection, use sunscreens made from zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are much healthier for both you and your favourite dive spot.

2) Touch or Kneel on Anything

There are lots of really cool animals out there. Animals that to the untrained eye may just look like a rock or something similarly unassuming. Some of those animals may fight back against someone unintentionally threatening them. It’s easy to kneel on a camouflaged stone or scorpionfish and get a potentially deadly sting. It’s also easy to try to grab onto a coral to balance or root yourself. The chemicals in your skin will almost certainly stress it out, potentially even kill it. It’s best to hover above or beside something and avoid intentionally touching it. Be aware of your surroundings to avoid doing so accidentally.

3) Provoke Live Animals

Animals living under the water are just going about their day. Imagine if some strange creature came along in your day-to-day life and started shining a light in your face, poking you out of your office, and chasing after you. That octopus is hiding in his den for protection, don’t poke it out into the open just because you want to take a quick picture. That parrotfish is sleeping in its mucus bubble, don’t disturb it and disrupt its circadian rhythm. Don’t rip apart a sponge to get to the one nudibranch living within it. We are under the water to observe all the fascinating creatures, behaviours, and the world they live in. We are not there to dictate how they spend their time. Enjoy what you see by looking, not by controlling the scene for short term gain.

4) Be Too Camera Focused

Taking a really spectacular underwater photo is hard. There are special considerations for light and movement to take into account. And you have less control of your body movements underwater. So many “experienced” divers can be caught dropping their camera on a 75 year old sponge, or holding around a coral (see point 2) to steady themselves for the perfect picture. These actions then prevent anyone else from being capable of taking pictures…because the beautiful subjects are now injured or even killed.

People with cameras also tend to lose control of their buoyancy and go through air faster. So if you’re shooting a Go-Pro video for your friends to see what your vacation was like, be sure to check you air and your surroundings more than you usually would.

5) Have Poor Buoyancy control

New divers are especially prone to this, but even divers with hundreds of dives under their weight belt have been known to suffer from it. Maybe you’ve never taken the time to do a weight check. Maybe you’re trying out new gear. Maybe it was just never something you put emphasis on. In any case, really working on your buoyancy can solve so many issues common in diving. Besides conserving air and elongating dive times, it can also reduce stress to not have to fight against either constantly rising or falling in the water column. With proper buoyancy control, you can hover above sensitive or hazardous substrates without accidentally smashing into them. It can also reduce the need you feel to flair your arms around for balance, so you don’t knock into anything or anyone. Correcting poor buoyancy should be the first focus on your dive-perfecting journey. From there, everything will be much easier.

6) Dive in a Fishing Area

You could get caught in a net, fishing line, or even worse, be stuck in an area where people are dynamite fishing. Make sure you are well marked above the surface with a signalling device such as dive flag, SMB, or buoy. If you have a dive tender, make sure they talk to any fishing boats that come into the area and warn them to be careful of you.

7) Feed Things

Just like on land, it isn’t cool to condition wild animals by feeding them. By routinely feeding a population of animals (usually fish) so they are around for divers, the animals are being conditioned to approach boats for food instead of feeding regularly. This could cause ecological shifts, but more importantly, it makes it very easy for fishermen to capture large schools.

Divers can get caught up in the feeding frenzy too. So the risk of getting bitten or attacked is much higher in areas of mass feedings than would naturally occur. Plus, feeding is just ecologically taxing. Most fish graze on algae, which keeps the reef healthy. If hand fed something else, they will abandon their posts as reef lawn mowers and go for the easy meal. This all makes the fish more vulnerable to predators because you’re disturbing their natural cycles and natural behaviors.

8) Anchor

Anchors and anchor chains can cause huge amounts of damage to the fragile substrate. Anchors dropped on corals will smash decades of life. And dragging anchors can take out entire communities. 70% of seagrass beds will be destroyed by anchors in one high tourist season. Consider placing permanent mooring buoys at popular dive sites. If that isn’t an option, why not do a drift dive? It that still isn’t feasible, try to anchor off site with a sand anchor and swim to the drop point.

9) Take Anything

You know that pretty shell that would look great on your mantle? Or that piece of the historic wreck you are diving on? Leave them be. The owners of those shells are dying off by the millions because of the curio trade so tourists can take them home and use them as soap dishes. Some of those shell owners were once predators to the menacing Crown of Thorns seastars that is currently exploding across the oceans due to a lack of predatory population control. These seastars are destroying football fields of coral every year because of the ecological shifts brought about by people taking shiny things from the ocean.

On the other side, wrecks are historical landmarks and anthropological sights that should really be left to the professionals. By removing pieces from it, you are disrupting a piece of a puzzle that may never be solved again. Plus, wrecks are just more interesting when fully intact, so leave it for the next people to enjoy.

10) Have a Lack of Self Awareness or Blindly Follow your Guide

Lots of dive centers will provide you with a dive guide to take your group out and see the sights. This can greatly enhance your experience. Many guides can spot attractions that we would otherwise miss. Plus, there’s an added level of comfort that someone who knows the local conditions will be with you throughout your expedition. However, not all dive guides are created equally. While most are top-notch, some have minimal training and minimal concern for safety standards. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you’ll be safe in anyones hands. Be sure you know the tables or are following your own computer, know restrictions, and generally dive safely. Check out your rental equipment before you get on the boat and talk to those in the center to get a feel for how they operate. Once underwater, don’t just blindly follow the guide to a crazy up and down profiles or unsafe behaviour. If you do feel unsafe, it’s entirely OK to end the dive. Come up safely and explain why. If no progress is made, refuse to dive with them again. Your life is more important than your manners or your apathy.

’10 Things for Environmentally Conscious Divers to Avoid’ was written by Roya

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Roya Eshragh

Even as a little girl, I was obsessed with the oceans and wanted to become a marine biologist. So, I got into diving in 2011 as an aide for my Master’s research on cephalopod (squid, cuttlefish, octopus, etc) parasites. I completed my PADI Open Water course and continued with the CAUS Scientific Diver course in the cold cold waters around Vancouver BC. When time allowed, I would help with the Howe Sound Research Group of the Vancouver Aquarium monitoring the Sound. I’m sorry to say, but even after all that, I still haven’t quite come to love dry suit diving.

Once I moved to Madagascar as the Science Officer of a marine conservation NGO, I realized just how lovely diving in the tropics could be. There, I completed my DiveMaster and became addicted to daily diving. I had to find a way to continue! So I did my IDC in Bunaken, Indonesia, completing my MSDT course and learning the tricks of the trade on a few inaugural students.

Currently, I am a dive manager/reef ecologist in Sri Lanka and starting up a conservation and education program with my dive shop. Combining my love of the oceans with my love of science, I am thrilled to have found a way to bridge the two and teach others about this incredible ecosystem we still don’t know nearly enough about. There’s still lots more for me to learn, both about diving and about the marine world, and that is the beauty of it all!

PADI Specialty Instructor
CAUS Scientific Diver 1
Master of Science - Zoology

Dream Dive Locations:
Komodo, Indonesia
Silfra, Iceland
Wreck Diving, Lake Michigan

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