Have you ever tried scuba diving? Diving is fun, relaxing, adventurous, always different, and allows you to observe sea creatures without representing a threat to them. Diving vacations are incredibly popular among travelers, especially people wishing to enjoy nature by practicing what is regarded as a sustainable activity.
But given what we said, is scuba diving really a sustainable activity? Does it have an impact on the natural environment and if so, how can we improve? What is eco diving and what are its beneficial effects on marine life?
In this article, we are going to answer all these questions, and more, discussing how diving vacations have changed in recent years and how eco diving will contribute to make the new generation grow up as passionate ocean defenders.
In 1997, a team of marine biologists investigated possible negative effects of scuba diving on the marine environment.
Their conclusion? At the time the study was made, on average, each traveler enjoying a diving tour in the blue waters of the Australian great barrier reef (the largest coral reef on Earth), broke between 1 and 2 coral colonies every 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, some coral species take just a second to break, but decades (or more) to regrow. If you have been diving for a while, you have probably witnessed yourself scenes of divers struggling to be stable underwater, hitting everything in their ways, including rocks, animals, and sometimes even other divers!
Making diving a more sustainable activity
The numbers from the 90s, seemed to suggest that diving might not be so sustainable after all, but not all of it was bad news. The Australian researchers observed something that gave them hope for the future: the vast majority of travelers did not damage corals in any way, even during long scuba diving vacations that included several hours underwater. However, a small number of divers was breaking between 10 and 15 corals each 30 minutes (per person). Ouch!
The main problem was in two specific groups: the absolute beginners and divers who had been inactive for too many years and had forgotten their training.
These data were somehow encouraging. They suggested that diving was not a high-impact activity per se, but divers needed to be trained better.
Have things changed since 1997? Did we improve in the last 25 years? Good news: we did! As the diving and tourism industries kept growing, more and more travelers began caring deeply about the environment. Travelers doing dive trips and other diving activities were in love with it. With time, an increasing number of scuba divers became advocates for the protection of the ocean and its creatures.
Diving training agencies began putting more focus on the quality of their training programs, and especially on buoyancy control, the ability to keep one’s position in the water column, without neither surfacing nor sinking. Using different words, buoyancy control could be defined as the ability to perfectly control our body underwater.
The Professional Association of Diving Instructor (PADI) started a training program called “Scuba Review”, in which divers that had been inactive for a long time could review or re-learn the fundamentals, while being supervised by qualified instructors.
In addition, dive centers across the world began doing “check-dives” at the beginning of each diving tour, no matter the diving level of the traveler. Check-dives are done in locations with no strong currents or fragile marine life, allowing guests to relax and refresh their skills, while being checked by their guide in an informal and friendly way.
New dive training agencies were funded, such as the Global Underwater Explorers, an NGO focused on training a new generation of divers, with a deliberate focus towards excellence and a strong skills foundation. The basic idea was simple: If divers are well trained, they will not damage the environment. If they don’t damage the environment, they will have more fun and they will dive and travel more. A win-win scenario that pushed many previously existing dive training agencies to raise their standards and make their dive courses better.
Universities and NGOs like Reef Check began involving travelers and divers in their research activities to collect data and protect the ocean, a practice that became known as “Citizen Science”. (see related article here)
Room for improvements
Thanks to these progresses and innovations, recreational scuba diving is now regarded as an eco-friendly activity with a relatively low environmental impact. Looking at the next 20 years, can we improve further? Our personal answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Better dive training programs are a great start, but, as travelers, we can do much more to improve the way we affect the ocean during our dive trips.
Sometimes small sustainable activities can make a huge difference. We can do so much before even entering the water: bringing our own reusable bottle will contribute to reduce single-use plastic pollution. Some sunscreens can severely damage corals while choosing an eco-friendly one will ensure coral protection (see related article here).
We also need to consider animal behavior and use a gentler approach when dealing with marine animals. Chasing sea creatures to take a cool Instagram picture may be tempting, but it causes stress to the animals, potentially putting their lives in danger. Using powerful underwater lights or relying too often on the flash when using cameras on the same animal can damage the fragile eyes of sea creatures, especially if we are too close to our subject.
Eco Diving: walking towards a brighter future
Hotels and resorts realized the importance of providing eco diving experiences and have started partnerships with NGOs with the aim of protecting the underwater world while at the same time providing an added value to travelers. One of these agencies, The Oceancy has created evaluations and assessment programs for hotels called “Sustainability Improvement Programs” (SIPs). These are essentially evaluation criteria that resorts need to follow to be considered sustainable. These criteria include snorkeling and diving activities, but also waste management, staff training, and social accountability.
Travelers are encouraged to take part in a variety of sustainable activities and programs, helping marine biologists collecting data and transplanting new corals to damaged locations.
The hope behind all these initiatives is that eco diving, through positive role-modeling and engagement, will contribute to form a new generation of travelers who know and care deeply about the ocean. Travelers will bring back home what they have learnt during their diving vacation and share their love for the underwater world with their families and friends.
If you are a diver, have you ever been involved in citizen science, or coral restoration projects during one of your dive trips? If not, would you like to do so in the future?
And if you are not a diver yet, would you like to become one in the future?
If so, would you prefer a diving course including eco diving concepts such as additional information on how to protect marine life while diving?
Let us know and in case you enjoy getting to know more about ecotourism and sustainable lifestyle options, please click here and register for our Ecotourism World Newsletter!