Because we venture to it, witness it, and explore it, divers have a deep and abiding appreciation for the marine environment. But as we know, it is threatened by various human factors, including overfishing, pollution, acidification, invasive species, and more. Even diving activities can have detrimental effects on the underwater world. So to preserve the reefs and marine life we love, divers must work to alleviate the pressures caused by our own activities. If every diver changed one small practice, the improvement could be significant.
When packing for a dive outing, bring reusable water bottles, bags, utensils, and straws. Choose means of sun protection that are less harmful to marine and aquatic life. The most environmentally sustainable way for divers to protect themselves from the sun is to cover up with rash guards, sun hats, etc. Avoid the use of sunscreens that contain chemical barriers such as octinoxate, oxybenzone, and benzophenones. Sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are generally considered less harmful to marine life. It is important to note that terms such as “natural” and “green” are not formally regulated, so reading ingredient labels is the only way to ensure that the products being used are safe for the environment. Aerosol sunscreen products are especially harmful and should be avoided. Many dive destinations around the world have banned the use of harmful sunscreens.
While in the water, divers can minimize their environmental impact as follows.
- Keep Your Distance
- Be sure to keep a safe distance from anything in the underwater environment.
- Use Proper Buoyancy and Trim
- Using proper buoyancy and trim decreases the chances that a diver will come into accidental contact with underwater life.
- Maintain a Streamlined Profile
- Keeping all gear clipped and properly stored while in the water can prevent contact with and damage to the environment.
- Take Photos and Video
- Showing others the beauty of both the topside and underwater worlds can inspire them to preserve those environments, however this must be done in such a way as to not cause damage.
- Report Environmental Violations
- It is important that all operators and divers be held accountable for actions that may negatively impact the environment, so reporting violations is necessary to prevent those actions from reoccurring.
- Participate in Conservation Projects
- Whether big or small, all conservation projects make a positive impact on the environment.
- Keep it Clean
- Collect any trash to dispose of after the dive.
- Take Only Memories and Leave Only Bubbles
- Divers should strive to leave the environment exactly as it was found.
When divers act irresponsibly, the environment can be negatively affected. The following list includes several behaviors that divers should generally avoid while diving.
- Kick Coral
- Damage to coral reefs can happen due to kicks from fins, so divers should maintain global awareness.
- Disturb Sediment
- Some organisms build habitats in sediment, so it should remain untouched.
- Chase or Touch Underwater Life
- Disturbing any underwater creature can cause that organism stress. It may also cause disease transmission or injury to the diver.
- Feed the Fish
- If fish are repeatedly fed, they can become dependent on that food source. This can result in aggressive behavior toward divers if it is not consistently sustained.
- Throw Trash into the Water
- Pollution is destructive, and it can harm both organisms and humans (e.g., food chain disruption or plastic in seafood).
- Remove Organisms (Dead or Alive)
- All organisms (e.g., fish, shells, etc.) play important roles in sustaining ecosystems, so removing them could be disruptive.
Being an environmental steward not only means implementing good practices but committing to promoting them as well. Role modeling is an effective way to encourage others to change their habits and take action to preserve the environment.
When planning dives, find a dive operator committed to protecting the ecosystem. Look for those that have made a visible commitment to ecological sustainability, or ask them about it; reluctance to discuss their practices might mean they are not attempting to reduce impacts. Examples of good practices may include:
- Using renewable energy sources, electric vehicles, etc.
- Providing eco-friendly personal care products (e.g., sunscreen, etc.) to customers
- Using mooring balls instead of anchoring
- Only allowing responsible and lawful spearfishing, hunting, and collecting
- Organizing conservation projects
It is important to note that protecting the environment is not an individual effort, but rather a series of goals that can only be achieved through the commitment of the entire dive industry. Your choices matter: Set an example for others to follow, and support businesses that have an eye on the future of diving.
To learn more, take Divers Alert Network’s free e-learning course Environmental Stewardship for Divers at DAN.DiverELearning.com.