Divers are, arguably, one of the most passionate groups when it comes to ocean conservation. Why? Because, having seen first-hand how beautiful the underwater world is, we’re inspired to protect it. In the wise words of the legend that is Sylvia Earle, “…scuba divers and surfers are some of the strongest advocates of ocean conservation… because they’ve spent time in and around the ocean, and they’ve personally seen the beauty, the fragility, and even the degradation of our planet’s blue heart.”
So, it might surprise you to hear that diving-related damage to coral reefs is becoming an increasingly significant issue. As a dive professional, you’ve probably seen divers behaving irresponsibly underwater: harassing marine life, not perfecting their buoyancy and knocking or breaking coral. Many of them might not even have been aware they’d even touched the coral, let alone broken it!
This damage makes corals less likely to survive other threats, such as overfishing, plastic debris and the effects of climate change, such as rising sea temperatures.
The good news is there are lots of things scuba professionals can do to positively influence diver behaviour and acting as a responsible role model is one of them. If you’ve read about being a good environmental role model in the Green Fins Code of Conduct and wondered how you can be a better role model for your guests, read on to find out more…
Practice good buoyancy
As a dive professional representing your dive shop, it’s important that you always act as a responsible role model. Often, divers will copy what they see their dive guide doing – and can pick up bad habits – so it’s up to you to set a good example.
While in the water follow the Green Fins “Diver dos and don’ts” at all times and encourage your guests to do the same. That means practising good buoyancy and advanced finning techniques, ensuring all your equipment is secured and avoiding stirring sediment as well as respecting marine life and keeping your distance. Don’t touch, chase, harass or feed the marine life and don’t collect souvenirs from the reef – it might even be illegal in some locations.
Displaying the poster in your dive or snorkel centre is a great way to educate guests about responsible diver behaviour too.
Choose Routes Appropriate to Guest Experience.
Each of your guests will have a different level of experience and it’s important to take that into account when planning your dive.
Choose your dive or snorkel site based on the guests’ skills. Don’t take inexperienced divers to sites where they might contact the reef such as swim throughs, narrow gulleys or sites with strong currents or wave surge, and inexperienced snorkellers should not be taken to shallow reef areas where they might accidentally kick the reef. Also, be sure not to overweight divers as this commonly leads to direct diver damage.
Where possible, provide life jackets for snorkellers to give them some support in the water and reduce the chance of them standing on the reef to rest. And minimise the chance of them damaging coral from standing on or kicking coral by not providing fins or booties.
It’s a good idea to conduct test dives with new divers as company policy so you can determine guests’ buoyancy skills, correct weighting and ability underwater. This will help you choose the most appropriate dive site for their ability.
Keep equipment tucked away
Ensuring guests’ equipment is secure will reduce the chance of accidental contact with marine life. Provide clips on all rental equipment and ask your crew to check all guests’ equipment is tucked away before starting the dive. Clips are widely available to buy but you can also make them yourself.
Keep an eye on photographers
Photographic equipment affects divers’ buoyancy and mobility in the water. So, it’s important that any underwater photographers should have advanced buoyancy skills to avoid damaging the fragile marine environment. Some dive shops even have this as company policy and inform their guests of it by including a statement in their liability release form!
Make sure you brief all divers with photography equipment on best practice for underwater photography, keep an eye on them during the dive to make sure they’re not making any damaging contact with the reef and help them with their shots if needed.
Give a solid environmental briefing
There is a lot of scientific evidence to show that environmental briefings reduce the chance of direct diver damage to marine life. When giving your pre-dive and boat briefings, run guests through the Green Fins Friendly Diving and Snorkelling Guidelines and include some environmental content. As well as reducing the likelihood of negative diver behaviour underwater, this is an excellent way of adding value to guest experience by promoting the uniqueness of the dive sites you visit.
Watch what you’re wearing
As a responsible dive guide, you wouldn’t let your guests pick up shells and remove them from the reef – but you might be encouraging this behaviour without realising. If you’re wearing a necklace, bracelet or other jewellery made from, or decorated with, shells or marine life, you might be inadvertently encouraging guests to buy marine life and wear or display when they get home.
The sale of corals and other marine life has a seriously negative impact on the marine environment globally. So, make sure you don’t have any marine life on display as decoration, furniture, for sale or for educational purposes in any of your dive operation’s facilities.
Watch your guests’ buoyancy and make corrections underwater
Managing guests well underwater will reduce the chance of damaging contact and negative interaction with marine life. It’s important to manage your guests before, during and after the dive.
As mentioned above, always provide thorough environmental content in pre-dive briefings – it helps your guests understand why they shouldn’t touch or hassle marine life. While underwater, always watch your guests closely and any correct bad behaviour, such as getting too close to the reef or hassling marine life. After the dive, explain to the guests why their behaviour was corrected. This will make it a positive experience for them and help improve their dive ability for the future, as well as adding value to the overall service.
If you see litter during your dive, and there is no marine life growing on or living in it, collect it and take it back to shore for proper disposal. Some dive shops give each of their guides mesh bags to collect litter – but if you don’t have a special bag, you can also put trash in your BCD pockets.
As well as always collecting the litter you see on your daily dives, organising or participating in regular beach and underwater clean-ups is a fantastic way to raise awareness to the global issue of marine litter, as well as collect valuable data for widescale monitoring.
Say no to single use
Remember that your behaviour above the water also has an impact on the life below and, just as they might on a dive, guests will follow your lead. Set a good example by refusing single-use plastics, always using the correct bins on the boat and, if you’re a smoker, disposing of your cigarette butts in the ash trays provided so there’s no risk of them being blown into the sea. Also, if you’re having lunch with your guests on the boat, make sure you don’t throw any food scraps overboard but bring them back to the dive shop to be recycled or thrown away properly.
Take the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course
The Reef-World Foundation recently launched its NEW Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course. This free online course helps dive guides, like yourself, better manage guests to prevent them causing damage to the reef; helping to protect coral and other marine life one dive at a time.
During the short course, you’ll learn about coral reef biology, the Green Fins approach, how to prepare and plan an environmentally friendly dive (including how to give an effective pre-dive environmental briefing) and how to stop customers (including underwater photographers) touching coral whilst diving.
Once you’ve completed the free course, you’ll have the opportunity to receive a personalised e-certificate by making a small donation (£19 / $24) to support Green Fins’ work around the world. Guests often look out for dive operators and guides with good environmental credentials so displaying your certificate helps promote yourself as a Green Fins dive guide and show eco-minded customers they can be confident in your standards. Click here to sign up and take the course, which is kindly hosted by PSS.
Following these simple steps will help the Green Fins initiative in its mission to protect coral reefs by promoting a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. If you want to help even more, you can help The Reef-World Foundation and the UN Environment in the global expansion of the Green Fins initiative by donating now.