Part II on how to be a more environmentally safe diver focuses on protecting the oceans and improving the marine environment.
In the first article in this series, we looked at ways of minimizing the negative impact that a diver can have on his or her local diving environment. By taking a sustainable do-no-harm approach we can do our bit protecting the oceans.
But as divers, we can do so much more than that. We can help have a real, positive, and profound effect on the marine environment if we put our minds to it. Making a difference means leveraging our relationships and our love for the seas.
As divers, we have access to a unique perspective on the effect humans have on the underwater world, and as its ambassadors, we have a responsibility to try and do what we can. The following tips can be a place to start.
1. Participate or organize a cleanup
A number of organizations, including PADI’s AWARE, arrange cleanup dives around the world, and these are often supported by local dive operators.
Find one near you by searching the organizations’ web sites, or by asking your local dive shop. For cleanup dives, you do a dive in an area hit hard by human debris and collect all you can of trash, beverage containers, bicycles, fishing nets, and lines.
Some divers have even raised cars and washing machines! Talk about making a difference.
If no dive clubs or shops in your area do cleanup dives, then volunteer to organize one. It doesn’t really require that much, and both the PADI AWARE and the NAUI Green Diver initiatives have excellent guides for organizers.
2. Document changes in the environment
Divers go where few others can go, that’s part of the sales pitch of many dive instructors.
And while being able to SCUBA dive is not the rare skill that it was a few decades ago, we still habitually go where the majority of people don’t. Meaning we are in an excellent position to monitor changes in marine life and ecology.
Sure, marine biologists could do this, but there aren’t as many of them as there are divers, so we’re in a better position. So check with your local dive organizations or marine environmental or even archeological groups, and participate in any documentation programs they may have.
Recently, when I was diving in Malta, all divers were asked to make a note of any jellyfish seen during a dive. Including species, size, location, numbers, etc., as a part of the island’s attempts to document whether or not the jellyfish population is in fact increasing, as is suspected.
3. Participate in hearings or find other ways of making the voice of divers heard
People rarely care about what they know nothing about. And the majority of voters and lawmakers in most communities don’t dive. The ocean can easily become a matter of out of sight, out of mind.
So whenever there’s a public hearing on subject matters that relate to or influence the underwater world, participate and make your voice, and the voice of divers everywhere, heard.
This could be in relation to the passing of new marine legislation, construction projects, and much more. If there isn’t a hearing, use other ways of getting your point across. Arrange an online petition, write your member of congress or parliament, write a letter to the news media, do whatever you can think of.
4. Tell non-divers about the underwater world
Often, the ocean suffers not because of the evil of humans, but because of their ignorance. In the Philippines, a good few years ago, the authorities struggled with locals fishing with dynamite, wreaking massive havoc on the corals below.
Increased fines, more patrol boats, information campaigns, nothing seemed to work. Then the divers came in. And they took the locals for a dive to see the beauty of the coral gardens, and the damage that the practice of dynamite fishing caused.
This helped. Suddenly, the locals understood the beauty of what they were destroying they understood that by destroying corals, they would eventually destroy the fishing grounds. And they realized that the corals and the fish that lived there could become a source of income, as divers would pay to go see it.
5. Dedicate your dive holiday to the greater good
A number of dive operators around the world arrange environmentally-themed holidays. Protecting the oceans has become a selling point for some shops. From setting anchoring buoys on wrecks in the Caribbean to doing cleanups on coastal reefs in the Red Sea and helping on archeological dives in Greece.
There are many ways of contributing to the diving environment while during great dives in exotic locations. And, maybe particularly for experienced divers, the sense of added purpose to pleasure dives can be highly motivating and can lend a whole new level to diving. Check with dive operators and travel agencies for options you might end up as a scuba hero saving the environment.
6. Take part in invasive species initiatives
Invasive species are a problem in many parts of the world. protecting the oceans doesn’t always mean just garbage. Some of these are species that migrate to a new habitat on their own others are brought from their normal habitat to a new one by way of commercial ships’ ballast tanks.
In both cases, they can wreak havoc on local species of both animal and plant life.
One example of a species that has migrated is the Kamchatka crab or the king crab. It has migrated from the Kamchatka peninsula on Russia’s Pacific coast all the way north along the Arctic Circle and to Scandinavia.
Also, the lionfish has become an invasive species. They are common to the Red Sea and Asia but have been causing massive problems in the Caribbean, where they’ve traveled in ballast tanks. When cargo ships sail at below their maximum storage capacity, they fill their ballast tanks with seawater to compensate. When they are then loaded with cargo in a new port, sometimes thousands of miles away, they dump that seawater, and its inhabitants, in the surrounding ocean.
So do as suggested in 2), and help the local authorities in keeping an eye on invasive species. Or in some cases, help limit the invasive species by eating them! In the Caribbean, lionfish have successfully been introduced to local restaurants, and Kamchatka crab can be found both canned and fresh.
6. Lead the way
Apply the advice of this and the previous article, and lead by example. Lesser experienced divers look to their more experienced fellows and learn from them. So show sustainable behavior, and other divers will most likely mimic you. Imagine the force multiplier effect of more divers protecting the oceans.
This is particularly important if you’re a dive guide, instructor, club leader, or some other authority figure in the dive industry, as your words and actions are more likely to be copied by other divers.
Will you make a difference?
For most divers, diving starts as a pastime purely for the enjoyment of it. But as our skillset and our experience grows, we can start looking beyond ourselves and start using our skills and passion to make sure that we clean the oceans when we have an opportunity.
First, take steps to minimize the negative impact we create, and later take action to ensure that we are a positive force for our dive sites.