Going scuba diving on your next holiday? It’s easy to get distracted by the wonders of the underwater kingdom and forget how our small actions can have a large impact on this fragile environment. Here are some tips on how to be a responsible diver on your next scuba diving holiday and do your part for sustainable tourism.
Pick the right location
Scuba diving hot spots are often picked because of their natural beauty and splendour, but the crowds they draw often lead to overcrowding of dive sites, which leads to more damage to the fragile coral reefs as there are too many divers with bulky gear in one small area. Too many divers can also stress the underwater wildlife and in the long run, the site loses what made it so popular in the first place. In 2016, Thailand had to close popular dive site Koh Tachai to give it some time to recover from coral bleaching caused by overtourism.
Avoid busy and overcrowded dive destinations, especially during peak periods. Pick less well-known locations or support communities that actively regulate and look after their local waters. The world-famous Sipadan Island in east Malaysia restricts the number of divers visiting the site every day, and recently agreed on an additional closure in December every year to allow the reef additional recovery time.
Research your dive centre
There are often many dive centres in popular dive locations. It is important to do your homework when it comes to picking your dive centre – don’t just go for the cheapest option as it might be sacrificing sustainability and eco-practices to cut costs. Instead, pick the dive centre that upholds responsible and ethical practices, cares about the environment and makes the effort to protect the dive sites that they visit.
Here are some tips for choosing responsible dive centres:
- Look for dive operators with transparent and prominent certification and codes of conduct, and those that prioritise environmental care and sustainability practices.
- A qualified, knowledgeable crew who know the local wildlife well usually indicates that they care for the wellbeing of their dive sites.
- Dive centres that lead small dive groups generally have less negative impact compared to large groups.
- Ask for more information about the centre’s diving and sustainability practices. Avoid operators who feed fish to attract them unnaturally or encourage touching animals, or those who are lax about diver qualifications and rules.
Improve your own diving skills
Being a better scuba diver will help you be a more responsible one. Scuba divers often cause damage to the underwater environment because of poor diving skills. Not having good buoyancy and control of your underwater movement makes you more prone to hitting and damaging coral reef. The same goes for being overweighted or careless about where you kick your fins while scuba diving. You should aim to have minimal to no unnecessary contact with the reef as far as possible while scuba diving.
Regular scuba diving sessions builds experience and helps to keep your skills fresh – how’s that for a good reason to book another scuba diving holiday?
Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but bubbles
The best thing you can do as a scuba diver is to leave no trace that you have ever been in that location. Do not take anything from the ocean while you are scuba diving unless it’s a good photo or floating trash. You might think it’s a small action to pick up a shell or rock as a souvenir, but many small actions add up and soon there might be nothing left for future divers to see.
We are only passing observers in this vast underwater kingdom. It’s also important not to harass the underwater wildlife while you are scuba diving. Stay a safe distance and avoid touching them no matter how cute they may seem. You don’t know how fragile or poisonous these critters might be, so it’s better for you (and them) to leave them be.
Pick an eco-friendly sunscreen
You probably apply sunblock liberally to your skin to protect it from the UV rays when you’re out scuba diving, but it turns out that many types of sunblock contain toxins that can actually cause harm to coral reefs instead.
Pick a sunscreen without oxybenzone and octinoxate and that uses biodegradable and natural minerals. Better still, minimise the use of sunscreen and cover up with long-sleeve rashguards. They offer much better UV protection and you never have to worry about reapplying sunscreen.
Speak up and support
Spot someone tossing trash into the ocean or disturbing the underwater wildlife? Speak up and let them know what they are doing is wrong. Often times people are more ignorant or lazy rather than willfully trying to harm the environment, but you have to actively call out practices that are harmful so that more people know what not to do.
Money talks as well, so you can also use your purchasing power to show your support to ethical and sustainable businesses, which will hopefully influence other businesses to adopt these good practices as well. You can also put your scuba diving skills to use by taking part in sustainability programs, like reef/wildlife research or coral nursery projects, for example.