Eco-Conscious Scuba Diving

Create an Impact by Teaching Eco-Conscious Scuba Diving

By: Caitlin McCall

In the past few years, ocean conservation and sustainable diving have become buzzwords, often overused but often not implemented or implemented correctly. Unfortunately, the recreational scuba diving industry didn’t always place emphasis on the importance of marine conservation. However, recently we’ve seen training agencies, such as SDI, incorporating certifications which encompass marine environment education and conservation content. This messaging extends to dive shops and instructors who can now include sustainable diving in their business plans and marketing efforts.

Why should dive instructors care?

Having dived and worked in the scuba diving industry in many countries, I’ve noticed an undeniable truth: many dive professionals lack understanding of the marine ecosystem enough to answer simple questions about “which fish was that blue one?!”, not to mention actually communicating the extreme crisis our oceans are facing and what we can do to help combat it. As dive professionals, we‘ve been given a beautiful opportunity to educate our fellow ocean-enthusiasts on just that!

Combining marine conservation and scuba diving is a natural partnership that can support both efforts and industries. Even your bottom line. The fact is that most students want to learn to dive or continue to dive because they love the ocean, and they want to learn more about it. Marrying these two objectives can give you a business plan that lines your pockets and gives your business a massive positive impact for our global ocean-loving community of scuba divers.

This may seem hard to believe since we are so immersed in ocean content. But many people, including our land-dwelling friends, are completely unaware of this very important information. As experts in this industry, it’s up to us to be great role models.

Why is eco-conscious scuba diving important?

This may seem like common sense, as it’s basically asking, ‘why is it important to care about saving the ocean?’ The truth is that many instructors aren’t well versed in the anatomy of our ocean’s ecosystem. In fact, when I was first certified in the Blue Hole, New Mexico, and certified all the way through Divemaster at Windy Point, Lake Travis, Texas, I had no idea that the ocean was in trouble. I actually didn’t realize anything was wrong at all until moving to Florida. I think this is a very common story, but it doesn’t mean we can’t make a conscious effort to learn and educate as many fellow scuba divers as we can now.

The simple answer to that question is this: Humans and every other species on this planet need the ocean to continue living and breathing. The ocean absorbs more than 90% of the heat and about 30% of carbon dioxide emissions produced by harmful human activities. Healthy oceans also regulate our Earth’s climate and reduces impact created by climate change. It’s also important to note that a whopping 71% of our planet is covered by water!

The “big” problems facing our oceans include:

  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Overfishing
  • Acidification
  • Sedimentation

Some of the effects of these problems are very easy to spot, such as a smaller number of fish, rising sea levels in coastal cities, or a deteriorating coral reef at your favorite dive site. However, most of the effects are ‘out of sight, out of mind’, which is why the most prevalent barrier to entry for marine conservation is simply knowledge of the issue and education on what we can do.

How to instruct eco-conscious scuba diving

For lack of proper training by dive instructors (yes, I’m putting the blame on us), a lot of the damage done worldwide to corals can be attributed to scuba divers. The ocean is our playground, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a free-for-all in which the ocean suffers for our fun.

Here are just a few easy tips to incorporate into your scuba diving instruction (and self-implementation) that can help protect our oceans for future generations:

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Teach SDI conservation specialty courses: Increase your course offerings and impact by including conservation in your course calendar. Teach Marine EcoSystems Awareness, SDI Coral Conservation, or Research Diver courses.

Teach proper Buoyancy: We know that being neutrally buoyant can help you to glide over reefs or wrecks, but it’s also very important to ensure you don’t disturb the marine environment. Teach an Advanced Buoyancy course.

Teach divers to the ‘hands off’ method: Prevent contact with coral and any part of the marine environment that isn’t salt water. It is human nature to want to reach out and touch things, but it’s extremely important that we teach our divers not to touch the corals! Corals are made up of soft fragile membranes and touching them could damage or even kill the corals, which take hundreds of years to grow back. Teach an SDI Coral Conservation Course.
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Teach divers not to wear gloves on reef dives: I’ve seen way too many divers wearing gloves on simple reef dives. But they really don’t need gloves if they won’t be touching anything. In fact, wearing gloves encourages touching. Share this tip while teaching Open Water Scuba Diver courses.
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Teach divers to wear conscious sun protection: Sunscreens and body care products contain chemicals that are known to harm coral reefs. Oxybenzone, a common sunscreen ingredient, disrupts coral production, causes coral bleaching, and damages coral DNA. I recommend going without and opting for protective UV clothing and hats on dive boats. Mention this while teaching Marine EcoSystems Awareness courses.

Teach responsible spearfishing practices: Following seasonal laws and guidelines for your area is important because regulations are created to help fish populations stay healthy. Size limits aren’t meant to be an annoyance but are actually meant to protect fish of spawning size before they are caught. Mention this sustainable practice while teaching SDI Hunter/Collector Diver or Deep Diver courses.

Teach divers safe boating practices: Anchoring in sandy areas and avoiding coral and sea grass is key for not creating a negative impact while boating. If there is a buoy system in your area to tie up to, even better! Anchors from boats can cause massive damage to important nursery and juvenile habitats for many key species. Incorporate eco-conscious practices while teaching the SDI Boat Diver course.

Encourage your students to take hands-on action: Let your students know that they can contribute to non-profit marine conservation efforts in their community, all while scuba diving! Mention this while teaching the Research Diver course.

Or, take a moment before any course to give a brief on these sustainable dive practices!

Don’t forget to market your courses as eco or sustainable because of this great addition!

The Future of Sustainable Scuba Diving

In a perfect world, the scuba diving industry will be a flawless incorporation of conservation and sport. Sustainability will be at the forefront of gear production, tours, resorts, courses, and dive briefings. A new and environmentally conscious scuba industry is demanding a shift in perspective and SDI is here to support you in your efforts to make a positive impact in your business and for our oceans with current and incoming courses and resources. We’re excited to see how we can work together to save our oceans.

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