Thank you to Hannah Hesford for this guest post:
5 things I learned from my first scuba dive
They say scuba diving opens up a world of possibilities, from facing your fears to learning new skills and exploring places beyond your imagination. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to do all three on a reef dive at the Gili Islands in Indonesia.
Here are a few things I learned from my first ever scuba dive…
Diving is a lot like meditation
I’d always thought of scuba diving as an activity for serious adrenaline junkies. But after my first dive, I realised that it has far more in common with yoga and meditation than it does extreme sports.
On land, switching off your brain (and your phone) can be a struggle. Breathing is something that just happens without thinking and rarely do we take the time to stop and just ‘be.’
When you’re diving, it’s a totally different ball game because being immersed underwater is such a sensory experience. Everything you can feel, hear and see comes into sharp focus. Your breathing becomes slow, purposeful and rhythmic. And you’re suddenly aware of how your movements connect with each intake of breath.
It’s hard to feel distracted when nature is putting on a show-stopping performance and you’re right there on the stage. To me, this is what living in the present moment feels like!
on a scuba dive, We’re visitors in another world
Something I hadn’t really considered before my first scuba dive was just how human-centric our lives are on land; particularly in Western society. Everything seems to revolve around the human experience: from motorways to fast food. We are the centre of the universe (or so we think).
But when you enter the marine world as a diver, it’s a different story entirely. All of a sudden, you’re the outsider. A guest in someone else’s home.
Seeing a coral reef for the first time is a humbling experience, especially because almost everything in front of you is alive and part of a delicate ecosystem of life. From the moment you submerge, you become a quiet observer in a vast universe of biodiversity. Here, clownfish weave among anemones and bumphead parrotfish munch on their favourite coral. Everything here has its place and purpose. Nothing is ours to take or touch. Suddenly, your own world feels rather tiny and you realise just how awesome and precious our oceans are.
Sharks aren’t the bad guys (we are)
Like many kids, I grew up watching the film, Jaws. But as I grew up, I couldn’t shake off that eerie leitmotif that seemed to follow me around wherever I swam. After all, sharks are the bad guys, right? Or so we’ve been led to believe.
This irrational fear of sharks followed me as far as the Gili Islands. “I just hope we don’t see a shark,” I told my diving buddy, moments before taking the plunge. So when I did have my first encounter, I was surprised at how I felt. This was the moment I’d been nervous about for so many years. Yet, I felt no fear. Just peace and appreciation.
It was a lone blacktip reef shark and I watched in delight as it zipped gracefully between the coral, in search of a hiding place. For the first time, I saw sharks in a new light. Vulnerable, not menacing. Just animals trying to survive in a world where up to 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans. When you put it that way, it’s easy to see who the real bad guys are.
Calm is power (both underwater and above)
There are some lessons you learn from scuba diving that can have a profound impact on how you experience the world on land. Keeping calm under pressure (quite literally!) is one of them.
Being underwater can throw up all sorts of unexpected challenges, be it a flooded mask or a strong current. Stressful situations like these can easily lead to panic, especially if you’re a novice diver. But when you panic, your body goes into high alert. Your heart races, your breath quickens and logical thinking goes out the window.
Scuba diving reinforces the value of keeping your cool when things get tough. It teaches us to stop, breathe, think and act. And that’s a good mantra for above water too. Life can be stressful. But even when you feel out of your depth, you’re still in control. So take a deep breath.
Our oceans need our protection
More than anything else, my first scuba dive gave me a much deeper appreciation for our oceans and a renewed sense of environmental stewardship to protect them. Now I understand why divers are so passionate about ocean and reef conservation. They know just how much is at stake.
Coral reefs are wondrous places. As well as looking beautiful, they’re also a source of food and habitat for thousands of species of fish. They protect coasts from storm erosion and provide income to local economies too. But they’re also under threat.
Climate change, poor fishing practices, pollution and irresponsible tourism are just a few of the stressors coral reefs face. The good news is there are lots of simple changes we can all make to protect them, whether that’s choosing to dive with a Green Fins member, never touching or taking marine life or switching to reef-safe sunscreen.
With any hope, the actions we all take today will help preserve our oceans and reefs far into the future.