Diving gives us the rare opportunity to transport to another, bluer world characterized by vibrant coral jungles and captivating marine creatures. Yet, it also gives us a firsthand view of the profound impacts of human activities on the ocean; virtually all marine ecosystems have been affected by pollution, habitat destruction and coral bleaching. If you're a diver, chances are you've heard the age-old cliché to 'take only pictures, leave only bubbles.' As marine ambassadors, we have a responsibility to protect the ocean environments we explore - starting with diving responsibly. From the obvious to the not-so-obvious, here are some tips to help you be a responsible diver.
1. Knowledge is Power
First things first, make sure you receive proper training from a certified organization like PADI, NAUI, SSI or CMAS. Getting a good grasp on essential diving skills, like good buoyancy, and safety procedures are the building blocks for being a responsible diver. This also applies to climbing the diving ladder. Diving specialty courses - like deep diver, nitrox and wreck diver - will give you the tools to explore further while diving responsibly.
2. Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail
Every dive should start with a well-thought-out plan. Ensure your dive goes swimmingly by considering factors such as the dive site, depth, time and potential risks. Knowing what to expect will also help avoid accidentally causing damage, like kicking the reef with your fin. Once you've created a dive plan, stick to it and communicate it clearly with your dive buddy.
3. Be a Great Dive Buddy
The buddy system was put in place for a reason. A dive buddy is someone to rely on for safety and support, from an out-of-gas emergency to becoming entangled. Great buddies know how to communicate, so make sure you're clued up on dive-hand signals. Plus, once you've mastered the secret diving language, you can provide an extra pair of eyes that can help spot - and signal - elusive marine creatures your buddy might have otherwise missed.
4. Perfect Your Buoyancy
Hanging out (or being neutrally buoyant) in the water is one of the most important diving skills you can learn. Mastering your buoyancy will help prevent accidental damage of coral reefs - like grabbing onto a fragile piece of coral to steady yourself - and disturbing marine life. Feeling a bit turn turtle with your buoyancy? Providing proof in the pudding that knowledge is power, PADI's performance buoyancy specialty course will teach you the tricks of the trade so you can float like a fish.
5. Follow Local Dive Laws and Regulations
When it comes to diving, rules are made to be followed. Always know and obey the local dive guidelines and regulations set by the dive site or country you are diving in. This is for your own safety and the protection of the underwater environment. These might range from permit requirements and dive boat procedures to the use of mooring buoys over anchors to avoid damaging sensitive ecosystems.
6. Leave It as You Found It
Not to state the obvious, but the ocean isn't an open market, so don't touch or take anything. Whether it's a shell from the beach or historical artefact from a wreck, leave every site the way you found it. And whatever you do, never touch the coral - the natural bacteria and micro-organisms on our skin can have dire effects on corals. The only exception to this rule is removing any rubbish you might see during your dive.
7. Respect Marine Life
It's not just humans setting boundaries, this also applies to marine life. Never touch, harass or feed any marine life. This also applies to dive centres. No dive operator can guarantee what marine life you'll see during your dive, and if they do, there's a good chance they are baiting the animals. As a responsible diver, it's important to manage your expectations and give marine life space. After all, wildlife is wild.
8. Choose Responsible Dive Operators
Thanks, in part, to social media, the pressure on dive operators to facilitate close-up animal encounters for divers is an ever-increasing issue. In many cases, this has led to dive guides baiting and chasing marine life. Do your research to ensure you are diving with responsible dive operators (we can help with this). Beyond feeding marine life, this incorporates adhering to safety protocols, following sustainable practices and promoting environmental conservation. We only work with the very best dive operators, so you can rest in peace knowing this point is ticked off.
9. Reduce Your Environmental Footprint
It goes without saying that you should always act as environmentally responsible as possible - both on land and under the sea. This ranges from following the three R's - reduce, reuse and recycle - to using reef-safe suncream. A responsible diver wouldn't dream of littering, so don't throw any rubbish, including organic, into the ocean. We said it before and we'll say it again: if you see any rubbish when diving, pick it up.
10. Join Marine Conservation Projects
NGOs are always on the lookout for extra muscle to lend a helping hand on marine conservation initiatives. There's a whole world of marine conservation projects you can get stuck into, from conducting survey dives and collecting data to joining beach clean-ups, both at home and on your next diving adventure. The added bonus of volunteering during your travels? It will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation for the marine environment you are exploring.