Sustainable Diving & Snorkeling: How to Prevent Damage to Marine Ecosystems

Sustainable Diving & Snorkeling: How to Prevent Damage to Marine Ecosystems

Whether you’re a scuba diver, snorkeler, or amateur swimmer, the ocean is a playground where you come to explore the beauty of nature and the difference from your regular life’s environment.

Divers, for example, descend 130 feet under the water, seek unique-looking creatures, and observe the marine world in all its glory. What never leaves their minds when underwater is that they are merely guests. This prompts them to treat oceans and its inhabitants with respect. 

We’d like to think that every diver and snorkeler shares this mindset, yet the lack of education about the damage being done to marine ecosystems makes it unlikely. Beginners and amateurs may find themselves unknowingly neglecting the basic sustainability guidelines that can potentially worsen the already tragic ocean pollution statistics. 

The research conducted by National Geographic reported that nearly 8 million tons of plastic end up contaminating oceans every year. Climate change puts even more fuel to the fire with heatwaves hitting countries across the globe harder each year. The steadily increasing temperatures, in turn, lead to melting ice caps and rising sea levels. As a result, we get more acidic oceans where corals cannot survive. 

A screeching 95% of the world’s coral reefs are in danger. Divers are known for being responsible for corals losing their structure and several species becoming extinct. It is the lack of awareness about the reef degradation caused by their actions that results in this destructive behavior.

When coupled with the rapidly growing tourism industry, the forecast isn’t very optimistic. 

Sustainable Diving is the Answer

Sustainable Diving & Snorkeling Guide Featured Image

This is where the practice of sustainable diving comes into play. It might not seem obvious at first, but the diving industry can become one of the most important drivers of change.

From booking a dive center focused on coral reef conservation to adhering to the temporary underwater visitors’ guidelines, there are plenty of possibilities to reverse the unfavorable figures.  

In this guide, we’ll discuss how you can be sustainable the next time you go on a scuba diving adventure. Keep in mind that most of these tips also apply to simple snorkeling or swimming in the ocean too!

Seek sustainable diving opportunities 

Being a responsible diver means making research about the environmental policies adopted by the diving destination’s operators. Pay close attention to the ethics exhibited by those operators when they are marketing their business. Do they promote an interactive experience with aquatic creatures? Is baiting a part of their practice? Or, do they focus on supporting the local conservation projects instead? 

Note that the most reliable diving centers are the ones that are a part of the Green Fins family, an initiative working towards protecting coral reefs through a set of environmentally-conscious rules that encourage sustainable snorkeling and diving.   

Arrive at the diving destination by an electrical-powered boat

Look into diving opportunities that involve taking an electrical-powered boat to arrive at the destination. Because of the extreme fragility of many dive sites, the carbon dioxide released by watercraft running on fuel can be harmful. When this chemical compound is dissolved into the ocean, and it causes the ocean to warm up over the course of time.

Another option would be swimming directly to the diving center. In this case, make sure the center’s dock isn’t built on the edge of the reef where it could damage corals.

Coral Reef with Fish - Sustainable Diving & Snorkeling Guide
Coral Reef with Fish

Don’t fall for the greenwashing practices

We want to emphasize the first point by urging you to avoid falling for greenwashing practices of any kind. For those who are not familiar with the term, greenwashing is a deceptive marketing strategy aiming at persuading customers into thinking that the company is operating sustainably. 

Some of the most common red flags include photos of divers touching marine species, promotional offers involving baiting and chasing whales, and the guarantee of seeing specific creatures when diving.  

Choose reef-friendly sunscreen

It was demonstrated that the following sunscreen ingredients – butylparaben, oxybenzone, and octinoxate – cause severe damage to the coral’s DNA. With over 14,000 tons of sunscreen washing off and entering the oceans each year, it is not hard to deduce the scale of the harm done to coral reefs. 

You should steer clear from using sunscreen containing these harsh chemicals if you are planning on diving. By choosing to apply natural and organic sunblock, you contribute to cleaner oceans and, hence, a greener environment.  

Master good buoyancy

If you are a beginner, don’t expect yourself to pick up every expert diver’s hacks on how to save air and energy underwater and be efficient when on the bottom of the ocean straight away. Do, however, strive to improve your buoyancy skills by taking courses from trustworthy diving organizations like SDI and PADI. 

Designed to teach you how to dive without disturbing marine life, these courses will help you become more diligent around corals and their delicate construction.

Don’t touch/chase marine organisms

Who knew the parents’ warning to not touch anything when browsing the stores would come in handy later on? Well, this educational rule most certainly applies to divers and their behavior underwater. No matter how tempting it might be to lay your hand on, or, worse, chase a unique-looking ocean creature, it is better not to.

Scuba Diving in a Coral Reef - Sustainable Diving & Snorkeling Guide

This act can cause severe distress to marine species. While for some organisms a touch means altering their skin membrane, for others it means hurting their frame altogether and exposing them to exterior infections. 

Take pictures responsibly

The simple act of taking pictures is not as innocent as it may appear to be. A study conducted by The Reef-World Foundation found that the majority of the damage done to marine flora and fauna was caused by the innocent picture-taking.

How? When you take pictures, you focused on your camera, and not your nearby surroundings. As a result, you can disturb surrounding marine life and corals accidentally, while you aren’t paying attention.

To avoid mistreating the aquatic life, it is smart to develop superior buoyancy in the water first so that you have more bottom time for taking pictures with care. 

Dive Against Debris (AWARE Project)

Ocean adventurers took it one step further and created a project that has transformed into a global movement. With the title of ‘Dive Against Debris’, AWARE has a mission of revealing what’s hidden beneath the surface and removing marine debris from the bottom of the ocean. 

Since the launch in 2011, Dive Against Debris has managed to inspire over 30,000 divers worldwide to clean oceans from litter and protect marine creatures. You can visit the link above to learn more and become part of the movement.

Avoid feeding fish and other organisms

There is a special connection between all marine ecosystems, and feeding aquatic animals can briskly disrupt the existing balance in the ocean ecosystem.

You may think you are doing a good deed by throwing bread crumbs into the water, while in reality, you may be making fish less self-dependent and harming their chances of surviving in the wild.

The availability of the new type of food could also shift animals’ diets, and this could create big problems for the ecosystem.

For example, if certain species of fish stop consuming algae, there will be an excess of algae that can suffocate coral reefs and fish. The food chain is disrupted, and the natural self-regulatory cycle of the ecosystem is destroyed.

Don’t purchase souvenirs made of marine organisms

There is no one valid reason for bringing back home corals or other marine species as souvenirs. Not only do you remove from the ocean the creatures that belong there, but you also contribute to the collective acquisition of aquatic goods that boosts sales.

Furthermore, even old shells or dead corals can be important to marine ecosystems, even if they don’t seem to be important at first. Dead seashells, for example, provide a home and/or food source for algae, seagrass, sponges, hermit crabs, and other organisms.

Diving isn’t supposed to prompt you to take home a part of what you see on the bottom of the ocean. It is meant to acquaint you with the diverse ecosystem and leave it be as it is. So, don’t support businesses that produce shell and coral jewelry, and don’t make the matters worse by taking it home straight from the ocean.  

Report underwater violations

Don’t be afraid to report those who don’t respect the environment. Educate environmental offenders about their actions and report them to the appropriate authority if necessary.

Be a part of the solution and help whenever you see any kind of wrongdoing. 

Adopting conscious diving manners will inevitably result in cleaner oceans and a thriving global environment. The fate of our planet is in our hands – the sooner we are able to recognize our own detrimental habits and how they affect the environment, the sooner we will be able to change them. 

Let’s allow sustainable tourism to become the standard in diving by adopting the best environmental practices. This way, future generations will not have to miss out on enjoying all that the oceans have to offer.  


About the Author: Casper Ohm

Casper Ohm is the editor-in-chief at Water-Pollution.org.uk, an outlet intended to raise awareness of the alarming levels of water pollution in our planet’s oceans. When he isn’t scuba diving and collecting data in the far corners of the world, he lives in New York with his family. You can click the following links to connect with him on Linkedin or via Twitter.

Edited by: Hugh

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