As divers, we’re blessed with the chance to see what few others see; an entire world underwater, with unique geology, biology, and a life cycle all of its own. But we’ve also got a front-row seat to the negative impact humans have on that world; coral bleaching, underwater debris and garbage, and declining populations of marine animals.
Divers can have a tremendously positive effect on marine ecology, but in this article, we’ll focus first and foremost on sustainable diving, understood as the practice of diving in a way that has little or no negative effect on the habitats we’re diving in.
In a later piece, we’ll explore some of the ways divers can make an actual, positive effect on the marine environment. We’re taking the approach of the Hippocratic Oath; first, do no harm.
Take only pictures, leave only bubbles
This is an old adage and has been used by many interest organizations in many versions, but it still goes.
As a responsible diver, don’t pick up shells, rocks, or anything else when you dive. Not to sound all Doctor Who-ish, but even the smallest change can have a huge impact. Maybe that shell you pick up doesn’t make much difference, but if every diver does it, the impact can be enormous.
And of course, leave nothing behind; no garbage, no dropped kit, no “I was here” mementos left on rocks. If you bring it in, take it out.
If you must hunt, hunt smart
The above adage counters underwater hunting and collecting. I know that spearfishing is all the rage now, and I am fine with that. I’ve even undertaken in a bit of spearfishing myself. So if you want to hunt, do so, but be smart.
Follow the rules and regulations of the area you hunt in, spear only fish that aren’t threatened by overfishing, and spear only large individuals that have likely already reproduced.
Know your seasons, so you don’t accidentally spear a pregnant fish, effectively killing off all of its offspring as well.
Watch your fins
Find and practice your finning techniques, then pick the one that suits the environment you dive in.
Good finning technique means less disturbance of the underwater habitat and less risk of accidentally destroying sensitive coral reefs.
For many divers, diving around the world is a major part of why they dive. But one of the main causes of diver impact on dive sites is lack of experience.
Poor buoyancy control, improper finning technique, and general bad habits, such as going hand-over-hand along a coral reef, are generally all signs of lack of experience and could be avoided by doing just a bit more diving.
But of course, traveling more to dive more puts more strain on the environment, and not just the underwater environment. So if you have the option, dive more locally, and try to substitute just a little bit of your travel diving with local diving.
The reduction of impact, including CO2 footprint, is very high.
Choose tour operators well
When diving, either abroad or locally, choose a dive operator that has sustainable procedures.
Ask them if they support local or global marine environmental organizations, ask them about policies for anchoring (dropping an anchor carelessly can cause a lot of damage, especially on coral reefs).
Ask them about any other activities they undertake to stay a responsible outfit, including what they do to educate their diving guests. The more we as diving customers demand responsible actions by the dive industry, the more the industry will respond.
Be picky about gear
At present, we don’t have an environmental certification for dive kit, but there’s still a lot we can do as shoppers. More and more producers have a policy of minimizing impact, so if possible, choose these.
And make the more environmental choice whenever possible. Several dive watches feature battery-less operation, being charged by light or movement.
And while there is some debate over the merits of rechargeable batteries, the majority of organizations still point to them being the smarter choice.
One dive, one piece of debris
When I dive with clients, I have a rule (a rule I also apply when I’m just pleasure diving): every dive, every diver brings back one piece of debris or garbage found underwater.
This is using the dynamics of the “take only pictures…”. If every diver everywhere brought back one piece of garbage for every dive they do, we’d clear up that Pacific Garbage Island in no time.
Dive like an 18th-century philosopher
A final word on sustainable diving can be made by referring to the 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant. His Categorical Imperative states that we should all act in a way that could work as Universal Law.
Essentially, act in the way you’d want everyone to act. Do not accept the notion that “it’s only me doing this, so it’s OK”. Be the agent of change you want to see, and be the responsible, sustainable diver you’d want everyone else to be.