A Scuba Diver’s Impact On A Coral Reef

A Scuba Diver’s Impact On A Coral Reef

- Mark Doherty

- Mark Doherty

Coral reef diving is an all-time favorite to most scuba divers. But like it or not, scuba divers are causing substantial damage to the world’s coral reefs.

Scientific evidence shows that divers are directly and/or indirectly responsible for damaging the reef life with some of their thoughtless behaviors.

Not to say that all divers are harming reef life intentionally. But due to some divers’ lack of proper training, it is done unknowingly at times.

Coral reef diving possesses some unique challenges compared to other methods of diving.

A diver needs to have a passion and affection for nature when diving on a coral reef.

Coral reefs are not solely beautiful colored rocks in the sea. They are living organisms that need extreme care and attention.

What Kind of Impact Do We Have on a Coral Reef?

Divers may not recognize that their diving sessions at coral reefs can have such a devastating impact on corals.

Dive-related reduction of coral life is very gradual and small so the impact on the coral and the whole marine ecosystem is relatively low. Several years of study reveals only a small visible level of damage.

But if the breaking down of the coral reefs continues, there could be severe long-term effects on the marine environment. Tiny amounts of depletion would then create drastic structural changes. This can then end in coastal erosion with a permanent loss to the marine ecosystem and its biodiversity.

Divers need to be aware of the  'butterfly effect' they have on coral reefs - Credit: Ocean Image Photography

Divers need to be aware of the 'butterfly effect' they have on coral reefs - Credit: Ocean Image Photography

Use of Buoyancy Controller and Fins

In the excitement while diving, the frenzied kicking from divers’ fins can hurt corals. So to avoid this, divers need to gain better control of their fins and legs when swimming.

Having appropriate buoyancy control helps to provide better diving at reefs as well as diving in general. Being a pro in buoyancy control, divers have a greater understanding their position. This helps to regulate underwater movement.

Don’t Touch the Corals

People love to touch things. Divers need to keep in mind that there’s a limit to how much interaction they have with marine creatures.

If divers touch the corals, it’s difficult for the corals to recover and leads to permanent damage. Unknowingly divers go beyond what touching they should really do. By doing this they cause damage and ultimately kill the coral. No diver wants this to happen.

A slight touch on a coral can lead to infection and might ultimately kill it  - Credit: Dennis Sabo

A slight touch on a coral can lead to infection and might ultimately kill it - Credit: Dennis Sabo

It is often thought and believed that corals are made of hard material and grow in abundance so they can’t easily be destroyed. However, corals have a very thin and fragile membrane as their outer cover, which can be easily punctured by touching. When it’s pierced, it becomes exposed to any small infection. Not only that, when coral is touched the chances of it breaking off is pretty big.

Seeing these issues, what should be divers’ responsibilities while diving at coral reefs?

Here are a few simple facts to keep in mind:


  • Study about the marine life that you might see while diving.
  • Educate yourself about the maximum limit of interacting with corals.
  • Make sure you and your buddy are aware of the impact on coral reefs.
  • Firmly obey guidelines of safe diving.
  • Take respectful attitudes for coral-friendly diving.


  • Don’t touch any of the corals.
  • Don’t let your body come into contact with corals.
  • Don’t let your diving equipment hang loose. Secure all equipment so nothing bumps into the corals.
  • Don’t pollute the water with anything.
  • Don’t break of or take any pieces of the corals.

Become an Ideal Coral Reef Diver

It doesn’t require a great deal of effort to become a sensitive and technically sound coral reef diver. Possessing the willingness and strong determination toward saving nature is all that’s needed.

Proper training during scuba courses can also help to a great extent. Divers must become reef-friendly by being properly trained, lessening negative impact on coral reefs.

Buoyancy control, movement underwater, breathing control, etc. are all requirements for being a reef-friendly diver. Everyone can become model coral reef divers and inspire others, taking pride in the help, protection, and conservation of the coral reefs.

An ideal reef diver has perfect buoyancy skills - Credit: Rich Carey

An ideal reef diver has perfect buoyancy skills - Credit: Rich Carey

What Do the Statistics Say?

  • A devastating fact is that coral life is currently in danger.
  • Studies show that 1/4 of the total worldwide coral population has already vanished.
  • 88% of the remaining corals are in extreme danger.
  • South Asian coral reefs may become extinct if not cared for properly.
  • Global warming and dynamite fishing are a concern for coral life too. Divers need to try their best to stop it.

Best Coral Reef Diving Destinations

There are so many incredible coral reef diving destinations in the world!

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia is one. Palau or Vanuatu might also be favorites among all the Indo-Pacific destinations.

And keep the Caribbean destinations including Saba, Glover’s Reef, and San Salvador in mind too.

Here's The Top 5 Must-See Coral Reefs.

But before traveling to these dive sites, divers have to first understand and adopt the skills and considerations for diving at coral reefs. Once this is accomplished, they can enjoy diving and observing the corals not causing any harm to a single one.

Now wouldn’t that be a great achievement as a scuba diver?

Coral reefs are not just colored rocks, they too possess life - Credit: stephan kerkhofs

Coral reefs are not just colored rocks, they too possess life - Credit: stephan kerkhofs

Let all of us divers around the world take an oath:

Let’s make sure all coral reefs remain a healthy habitat for every marine organism, trying our best to enjoy scuba diving without disturbing marine life in a harmful manner.

What are you doing to help the reef? Tell us what us are doing, and if you need help to complete an ecofriendly project. Leave a comment below!

About The Author

Torben Lonne

Torben is a top skilled PADI MSDT instructor. He has worked several years with scuba diving in Indonesia and Thailand – and dived most of his life in most of the world.

He is also the co-founder and chief-editor of DIVE.in you can always catch him here [email protected]


  1. Carter James Arkinson

    Hi great article! Thank you!
    I really hope a lot of divers would read this and take it into consideration. So many divers out there don’t care about the environment at all. Smashing and breaking all the corals on their way.
    Sorry fore the angry, environmentalist here, I just see this as a big issue!

    • Torben Lonne

      Thank you Carter!
      We need to do ours to keep the reefs in good conditions! This should be the first thing in every course!

  2. MOLO

    i was wondering how divers want to take action in this matter

  3. Arturo E. Insignares

    My project is to rescue the protection that Sabanilla’s Bay had in the past with an island, Isla Verde, so I decided to make the project using artificial reefs constructed by ReefBalls, it will be the biggest pool in Colombia in the Caribbean, for divers to come from overseas and local, fisherman and tourists also, this is my project’s URL, thanks.

    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Arturo,

      sounds like a great project. It’s always a great act to help the underwater environment. Can you tell us a bit more about the reefballs you used to construct the artificial reef?

      Thanks for sharing your project!

  4. Arturo Insignares

    Isla Verde was a rocky island that protected Sabanilla’s bay, it enclosure two small cities water front. When the Spaniards came over they saw it and realize it was a good protected port to have, so they build the 3th largest port in the world.
    Because personal or political reasons the port was transfer to the river next to the city in the river only 20 minutes away and forgot to maintain it ever since, until today, because of this lack of maintenance the Ocean took its toll on it and the Ocean current destroy it and beaches also.
    I went to find a company to rescue the protection it had before the island and with the help of the company’s management I design the site to show it.
    My next step is to find the money to set up the artificial reef need it but because of the political turmoil in the country I need the money to start the first leg of the project to sale it to Colombia’s government, here is where I stand right now

    At the moment it is going to be an ONG type of group or Company, once I get the money to start the artificial reef to attract divers, fisherman and tourist in general to the area, my goal is to set it up to dive in the area since it is in the tropic, ideal for tourist divers, with important shipwrecks around like the PAW (Prince August Williams) a second world war ship destroyed by its crew in order not to let it go in enemies hands (Americans), not only to dive but to see history. Anyone can visit the first city build in America, Santa Marta, the fort that was attack by Pirates and Corsairs in the Caribbean, the Spanish Armada and a lot more history.

  5. Arturo Insignares

    Also to help craft fisherman that are without jobs due to the island’s problem, to develop a fish growth as result of the lack of fish in the area.
    There are a lot of benefits for the community.
    I am a Recreational management with experience in the city of Miami where I worked for many years with the city’s department and the tourist that came over with Intasun, a British company where I worked also in Miami Beach around 1980, so that could help me.
    The project is so helpful to the community in need of help but the beginning and only thing to do is to set up a reef with the help of ReefBall and it a management, Todd Barber who I have maintained ideas for a while and his support.

  6. Arturo Insignares

    The idea is to setup a protection in front of the island where the current can be diverted and obtain as result a peaceful and crystal bay ideal for diving with reefs, fish and shipwrecks around for divers to enjoy all year round.

  7. Arturo Insignares

    The next replay that I want to see here is to tell the story, outcome of this idea for everybody to read and enjoy!

    • Torben Lonne

      That was a lot of comments, again Thanks for sharing your project. It sounds like you have big plans. I hope you will succeed and make a subnational eco-system where nature and humans can live side by side in great harmony. Let us know if we can do anything to help your project, send me an email on: [email protected]

  8. Chris

    A lot of great tips. Thanks for bringing to divers attention, hopefully it gets through to a few who could use it the most. Cheers.

  9. Sarah

    Nice post which Proper training during scuba courses can also help to a great extent. Divers must become reef-friendly by being properly trained, lessening negative impact on coral reefs. Thanks a lot for posting

  10. Lakbay Diva

    i wonder if free-divers are included? :D we don’t have BCD’s and we have more awareness of our body and fins. :D

    • Torben Lonne

      Well I guess you are! Never thought off is at environmentally friendly diving :)

  11. Neil

    Excellent Article Torben! I am actually completing a PhD study at the moment on this topic, evaluating the level of impact from divers and developing/testing a model for behaviour change.

    Would be interested in discussing it with you and getting your thoughts on potential interventions.

    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Niel,

      I PhD study is always something I’d support. Especially on such a relevant issue.

      Let me know what I can do, send me an email on [email protected]


  12. Hunter Winkel

    I’d like to point out that the first picture is of a scuba diver and a lion fish on the reef, and lionfish post more of a threat to reef life versus a diver. (unless, of course, a diver is dragging his prop against a shallow water reef, or hitting it with a chisel or a hammer)

    • Torben Lonne

      It’s true that the lion fish causes problem in some areas, but the lion fish is also a natural part of the ecosystem in other areas. And it was human that brought the lion fish to the areas, where it is now a treat to the reef life, not the lion fish itself. Please keep that in mind!

  13. Stefano Alvernia

    Hey I was wondering if you think dive sticks (muck sticks) could help new divers getting certified at these locations. Essentially they would be used as a crutch to stop divers from banging into corals. They would ideally use them to on sand not on corals.

    • Torben Lonne

      Hi Stefano,

      I’d say no. Divers should start diving over sand, until they are comfortable enough to not bump the corals. There’s no harm in hitting the sand, that’s why we train there and once good enough we can move to the reef.

  14. David Tombs

    Specifically for divers this may be a small impact,but over all it is said to have a major role in bleaching. That is the use of sunblock,it breaks down in the sea and produces a chemical that causes the expulsion of the microscopic algae that give the reef its colour.

  15. Amy

    Thank you so much for all the great tips and information. I’m doing a school assignment which will help promote scuba diving problems and solutions. It really amazes me that people can be so careless with their diving and how much damage one touch can do to a whole ecosystem. Thanks again ;)

  16. Dive Dangerous

    Great post. There’s actually a good reason why I don’t encourage just anybody to dive, a lot of people are idiots, and just don’t understand the damage they can do to a coral reef. Let less divers into the water, bring more awareness to the divers already in the water, that’s the ticket.


    • David Tombs

      Ronnie, I fully agree with you. I have a dive buddy who dives almost every week,has over 700 dives and until I filmed him with a go pro insisted that he was horizontal in the water. Now he is flatter and kicks up far less. Reef’s are a delicate ecosystem under threat and should be protected from everyone including many divers.

  17. JJ Harvey

    I oversee the international development and implementation of the UN Green Fins initiative working to encourage dive centres to follow a Code of Conduct and following best practice. In my experience working across most of Asia and visiting hundreds of dive centres, the main issue here is lack of training and awareness. Overcome this and the impact from diving on it’s own can be easily overcome. The associated transport, coastal development and waste water management is another threat that needs urgently addressing simultaneously. Check out the website for information on free membership for diving and snorkelling centres – http://www.greenfins.net


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