No matter how hard we try, divers generally have a negative impact on the coral reef ecosystem. Although there are significantly worse threats such as pollution, over fishing and climate change, scuba divers still can easily damage the reefs, and as scuba diving is becoming more and more popular as the years go by, more divers unfortunately means more damage. Some popular dive locations around the world have been devastated by the effect of being ‘over-dived’, where it might be common to see what was once a beautiful coral garden turned into a graveyard of bulldozed coral rubble. Hopefully these tips will help you to look after this beautiful, but globally threatened ecosystem, and enjoy yourself at the same time.
Don’t dive over the reef until you’re ready
Most new divers will want to see everything they can, without realising that their underwater control isn’t as good as they thought. In some places you can clearly see the effects of diver training on the reef. Knocked over table corals, shattered foliaceous (cabbage/rose formation) are becoming common sight as instructors and dive masters try to show their inexperienced client a nudibranch hidden deep within the reef. You will get just as much out of the dive if you stay to the side of the reef, until you feel you have the buoyancy control to move a little closer.
Respect the marine life
It might seem fun to swim near the damselfish and watch them attempt to chase you off, but it won’t be so much for the damselfish, who is trying to protect its algae patch from you, despite the enormous size difference. Actually it is probably quite stressful. The same applies for all other marine life, we are here to passively observe marine life, and not to interact with it. If you find that you presence is effecting any creatures behavior then slowly swim away from it.
Learn about the wildlife
You see so much more when you dive if you know what’s down there. Reading an identification book lets you fill out your log book with ease, and allows you to understand the relationships between different species, as well as giving you a good idea of the diversity of marine life that you should see whilst diving.
Leave your gloves at home
Unless you are diving in cold water, or wreck or cave diving then you should have no need for gloves, which in my experience, encourages divers to touch things. Be it just a finger on the reef to steady yourself, or grabbing onto that turtle for a free ride, you should never touch anything. If you need to steady yourself on the reef at any point, then go back to point #1. The same applies for using pokey sticks.
Be careful around the sand
Remember that sand is an underwater ecosystem too, and one that can be easily disturbed by bad habits. Incorrect finning techniques can stir up a sandstorm, effectively rendering the sand dwellers as blind. If this stirred up sand lands on coral, it will smother it, preventing sunlight reaching the zooxanthellae (the corals symbiotic, photosynthesising algae).
If you see litter, pick it up
Unfortunately the oceans are full of litter, most of it came from land in the first place. Plastic bags are a serious hazard to many marine species. A plastic bag, floating by in the current can easily resemble a jellyfish, a favourite food of many turtles. If ingested the plastic will not be able to be digested, and will probably kill whatever eats it. If you see anything underwater that really shouldn’t be there, pick it up. This doesn’t apply to glass bottles that have been there for a while, as they become a good habitat for many marine species, and are nontoxic.
Although the world’s oceans are under threat, we as divers can help to make a difference. We are privileged to be able to witness the beauty and diversity of the oceans, but we are also the ones who can really see what difference our actions really have. We are in a position of responsibility, we are responsible to be role models in the way we live our lives, both near the water and far from it. We are responsible to help raise awareness of how our most diverse ecosystems are under serious threat, and we are responsible to make sure we pass on good habits to new divers, so they continue to fight for our oceans.
‘6 Tips to Help Protect the Reef’ was written by Mike