The Bad Diver and Aquatic Awareness

The Bad Diver and Aquatic Awareness
What can you touch underwater? – Jon Milnes

How many divers touch the Reef, the Corals or even the Fish when diving?

Is it normal practice for divers, nowadays, to pick up and touch things on their dive?

Christina Christensen is a good friend of mine who is a recently qualified Open Water Scuba Instructor. Whilst discussing our diving experiences by email, she got on to the subject of irresponsible divers.

This is what she said:

“From my experience with customers, I’ve come across too many examples of people acting like the underwater environment is their own personal playground.

I really wish some of the divers I met would have more awareness of the impact they have. It is part of my job as an instructor to teach awareness from the moment we enter open water.

Greg Amptman

In my experience, even when stressed in a teaching environment, some people just don´t seem to care. I´m not always in a teaching position either, part of the job is also to take certified and experienced (by the number of dives) divers out on guided trips.

I found a dilemma between being a positive guide, working as a representative for a dive shop, and looking after their business. You´d really want the customers to have a happy experience and come back, right, and at the same time express clear leadership on what is acceptable or not while scuba diving.

This is a bit hard sometimes, especially when guiding people with far more dives, experience, expensive equipment, and educational level,” says Christina

See the Dive Guide Who Makes a Puffer Fish Puff for the Sake of Entertainment

Raise the Awareness

I can relate to what she is talking about. I have also been in a position where I’ve felt that I should be promoting and encouraging proper diving practices, but I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers with my boss by upsetting a customer. Especially when they should know these things better than me.

What can you do in these circumstances?

Christina continues:

“I’m going to tell you a horror story and I´d really like to find some scientifically grounded reasons for why it is important to stick to the recommendations of interaction as stated by the educational system of diving!

Maybe it can help raise some awareness?”

Harm to Animals for a Picture

Is touching calm marine life okay?

“There were pictures attached to the email which made me upset. They were of divers who were causing harm to animals and the environment, clearly just to get neat photo opportunities. This was the story which accompanied them:

During my Instructor Development Course, I went on quite a few dives as a Divemaster. Among the divers I accompanied was a couple from the USA and a brother who´d come down to celebrate an anniversary.

My job was to guide them for two days on four dives at different locations; a fun-dive package deal.

They were Advanced Open Water divers with 300 dives under their collective BCD wings. They were equipped with the latest expensive personal gear and each of them had an underwater camera. On the trip out we got to chat some and I learned they´d been many wonderful places around the world. Diving in multiple locations and I took an instant liking to them.

They seemed open, happy and looking for some good dive experiences.”

“On our dives, they displayed what was, in my opinion, a somewhat different attitude. Hitting the bottom with a crash they continued trawling the seabed touching everything: The turtles, the corals, and the fish (I secretly wished they would touch a scorpionfish to teach them a lesson).

They even scared a pufferfish into blowing up so they could take pictures. They goofed around with the camera, oblivious to the environment in order to get the greatest shots. They were an absolute mess.

Would you ever make a pufferfish puff? – Stephan Kerkhofs

I didn’t tell them off at the time because I was in shock; watching in horror almost to the point of amusement at the textbook fails on everything they did. They had obviously closed their eyes tight every time the PADI ‘bad diver’ appeared during the training videos.

I really wasn´t sure in what way I could make myself clear; being a rookie with limited experience in leadership and also being paid by the dive shop to be a guide, I found it really hard to express my concern. So I did nothing.

They’d had a great time. They complimented me on doing a great job and we became friends on Facebook. I have, however, been keeping an eye on their dive practice, mostly through the pictures they’ve posted online. My experience with these people raised a lot of questions in me and afterward I’ve always felt I hadn’t done my job properly” she continued.

Touch the Fish Pictures

Rostislav Ageev

Today I just saw they posted another album of ‘touch the fish’ pictures. I felt my heart sink. I feel like I should question their dive-profile and see if I can help to change their attitude and their behavior.”

We were both really upset that these divers got to go to all the best dive sites in the world, swimming with schools of whale sharks, mantas, dolphins, etc… but treating the places as if they were their own, personal playgrounds.

So Christina and I did some internet searching and found a few articles with scientific research about the consequences of bad scuba diving practice for aquatic life. We wanted to make sure that these divers knew that there we scientifically grounded reasons behind our objections and that this wasn’t just something we had made up.

We also found reports from how the larger dive-community reporting divers with similar pictures on social media who consequentially have had their dive certifications suspended.

Christina felt reporting a little bit too harsh. She felt by not giving a clear message when she had the chance, she´d been partly responsible for them continuing to dive this way.

I suggested she´d keep the message simple, but clear. We decided to comment on their album with the PADI tips for divers as follows, which would hopefully help raise awareness.

1. Dive carefully to protect fragile aquatic ecosystems

Many aquatic organisms are delicate and can be harmed by the bump of a camera, the swipe of a fin or even the gentle touch of a hand. Some aquatic organisms like corals grow very slowly and breaking even a small piece can destroy decades of growth. By being careful you can prevent long term damage to magnificent dive sites.

2. Be aware of your body and equipment placement when diving

Keep your gauges and alternate air source secured so they don’t drag over the reef or other vital habitats. Control your buoyancy, taking care not to touch fragile organisms with your body or equipment. You can do your part and prevent injury to aquatic life every time you dive.

3. Keep your dive skills sharp through continuing education

Before heading to open water seek bottom time with a certified professional in a pool or other environment that won’t be damaged. You can also refresh your skills and knowledge with a PADI Scuba Review, PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course or Project AWARE Specialty course such as Peak Performance Buoyancy.

4. Consider how your interactions affect aquatic life

Avoid touching, handling, feeding or riding on aquatic life. These actions may stress the animal, interrupt feeding and mating behavior or provoke aggressive behavior in normally nonaggressive species.

5. Understand and respect underwater life

Playing with animals or using them as food for other species can leave a trail of destruction, disrupt local ecosystems and rob other divers of their experiences with these creatures. Consider enrolling in a PADI Underwater Naturalist, AWARE Fish Identification or Coral Reef Conservation Specialty course to better understand sustainable interactions.

6. Be an eco-tourist

Make informed decisions when selecting a destination and choose Project AWARE Environmental Operators or other facilities dedicated to sustainable business practices. Obey all local laws and regulations and understand your effect on the environment. Don’t collect souvenirs like corals or shells. Instead, take underwater photos and follow Project AWARE’s 10 Tips for Underwater Photographers.

7. Respect underwater cultural heritage

Divers are privileged to access dive sites that are part of our cultural heritage and maritime history. Wrecks can also serve as important habitats for fish and other aquatic life. Help preserve these sites for future generations by obeying local laws, diving responsibly and treating wrecks with respect.

8. Report environmental disturbances or destruction

As a diver, you’re in a unique position to monitor the health of local waters. If you notice unusual depletion of aquatic life, injury to aquatic animals or strange substances in the water, report these observations to responsible authorities in your area.

9. Be a role model for other divers and non-divers when interacting with the environment

As a diver, you see the underwater results of carelessness and neglect. Set a good example in your own interactions so that others can learn from you.

10. Get involved in local environmental activities and issues

You can greatly affect your corner of the planet. There are plenty of opportunities to support healthy aquatic environments including Project AWARE conservation and data collection activities like local beach and underwater clean-ups and Coral Watch monitoring, supporting environmental legislative issues, attending public hearings on local water resources, conserving water or making responsible seafood choices

Reporting Can Be a Difficult Task

The pictures got removed off the internet after an additional private message to the divers, amicably reminding them about the #1. Christina received the following reply:

Is it okay if the guide shows you? – Rich Carey

“Hi Christina, I truly thank you for the message. That was a wonderful way of expressing your concern and you may consider it well received. I did remove the pictures but left your PADI statement up there. I hope this will be a good reminder to myself and others. With care, G.”

It can be tricky to balance being polite, friendly and making sure those diving with us are enjoying themselves with maintaining good standards, safety, and protection of the environment. As responsible scuba divers, it is our duty when we see divers like this we should send a clear message that this behavior is not OK and help them to be more aware of the impact they are having on our marine life.

And here ending the lesson

If you have been caught in a dilemma like this I would like to hear about it. This is, unfortunately, a situation that will continue to come up. And we can all support each other by discussing how to appropriately deal with these behaviors when they occur.

I look forward to reading your comments.

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Bruno M.
Bruno M.

Although I had some diving experience 30 years ago I am an ocean lover and a newfound scuba newbie with my certification dives coming up in a couple days. Even so I am just as bothered by the behaviors described in this thread, especially by divemasters and instructors.

At the same time I know that much of the best diving is in countries where there isn’t much respect for the law or consideration for others and nature.

I’ve spent some years in those countries and I must say that words rarely dissuade them. They might make a show of listening but they will often go back to their destructive but profitable (for them) ways the moment you turn your back.

The only effective way to stop them is to hit them in the pocketbook (like reporting and suspension by their certifying organizations). I am glad to hear that such mechanisms are in place.

Sylvia Kidwell
Sylvia Kidwell

Thank you for informing divers there are ways to report a DM! Unfortunately, all divers will see inappriate behavior of DM’s & divers.


All one has to do is watch YouTube to see a high percentage of divers who obviously are not “Aware”. As much as I enjoy watching dive videos (next best thing to being there!) I cringe every time I see bad diving habits. I don’t know if there is anyway to contact the owners of the videos similarly to how the author of this article did or not?

Torben Lonne
Torben Lonne

Hi Kotto,

Well yes and no! I think we as humans tend to forget what we know is right. I hate the examples you mention, although I know all too well that it’s happening way to many places.

Every time I dive with other dive guides(or students/guest) and I see this behavior(luckily I’ve only seen it in smaller scale) I try to explain the effects of their behavior, and how they are destroying their future by destroying the ocean. – Often it works, or at least they will be moved towards the right way.

What do you see as the other option instead of education? – there’s the story of impressionist of a DM in Thailand for killing a ray, but I’m not sure if it helps.


Unfortunately, there are more than a few so-called dive professionals engaged in “bad diving” practices. I have seen dive instructors seating a group of divers on staghorn coral outcroppings to take a photo, a dive guide stressing the puffer fishes, a dive guide “riding” leopard sharks, others riding turtles, dive guides ripping open sea urchins to attract a feeding swarm, etc.

Obviously it is not just a matter of education here.

Christina Christensen
Christina Christensen

@Indah Susanti

All diveprofessionals who are working legally by updating their membership to their diveorganisation, are required to meet the standards set by the organisation in order to be able to teach. Irresponsible aquatic interaction is a violation to the standards as a professional. If you find the standards deviant like in your example of the DM, you can address directly to the diveorganization. Although I do recommend confronting on spot if you find some practices out of order, it is also fine to send reports anonymously if you find it uncomfortable.
Send a mail with a description of the issue you found troubling together with the prodivers number, and the organisation will take it from there with inquiries. If you can´t get the number and/or the professional is untitled to teach, a warning will be posted (in case of PADI) in the latest issue of the Undersea Journal. There you´ll also find a list of professionals being suspended from teaching for different reasons after being reported of inadequate diving according to the standards (the reasons why divepros are suspended, is not stated in the Journal)

The reason why they´ve put up this reportingsystem is to get rid of unserious actors in the diveindustry, and to ensure safety and transparency along with responsible divepractice.

In cases of other divers behaving badly in the group, I think you did the right thing by telling the admin, but from the feedback you got, I´d recommend you take the means in your own hands by sending a mail directly to the organization on how you found the situation and the behavior of your DM.

I really hope other PROS who read this will take this article as an amicable reminder to include the importance of aquatic awareness in their brief on every dive they do. Then it ´ll be easier to feedback divers on their behavior after the dive, and also for other pros to feedback without feeling bad for correcting.

Happy diving!

Indah Susanti
Indah Susanti

Unfortunately, not all dive guides/masters/instructors as concern on marine life as much as you and Christina do. And the dilemma is not only experienced by the dive center personnel but also to us, the customers.
As a regular customer to diving industry and ocean lover, I had several experiences with ignorant dive centers.
First, I was diving with an expatriate dive guide/master who wore gloves all the time. Then I found out, he likes to touch nudibranches to show them to his guests. I was annoyed at him but he was the only dive master/guide in the only resort in the island, so we were sort of stucked with him.
Second experience was, we saw two scubadivers in our group dove carelessly. Their fins touched corals, sands, pushing other scubadivers who took photos and their regulators were floating around – touching corals here and there! My partner reported it in friendly way to the administrator of the dive center and requested her to inform the dive master/guide to brief the scubadivers to be more careful with corals etc. On the next day, the staff of the dive center turned to be unfriendly to us. The divemaster/guide still did not brief us to care on corals and our fins movement or consider to other scubadivers in the group (and, yey, he did not talk to us at all until the end of our holiday).

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