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Is Scuba Diving Eco-Friendly?

It seems pretty cut and dry that scuba diving is good for the environment. It teaches people how to interact safely with the ocean (in theory) and gets people outside. Sadly, this is not always the case. 

Scuba diving at its core is eco-friendly. Most people follow “leave no trace”, do not touch the corals or wildlife, and respect the environment. When people do not follow tenants like these corals can get damaged, animals can get hurt, and pollution can get into the environment. Divers cleaning up fishing nets after a dive.

Scuba diving is growing and gaining popularity all over the world. Divers are searching for the best diving destinations for their next dive spot. While most people are responsible and follow safe practices, not all do. I will go over what makes scuba diving eco-friendly, what doesn’t make it friendly, and how we can be better divers.

Ways Scuba Diving is Eco-Friendly

  • Coral Propagation and Other Diving Projects- There are a lot of good things that divers do to help out the ocean. Coral propagation is a worthy cause and lots of dive centers run courses and help out with the local reefs. Places like Calypso in Amed, Bali, Indonesia has great courses and partners with Ocean Gardener to educate people and have them check in on and plant corals themselves. 

    Coral Propagation with Calypso Diving and Ocean Gardener

    Coral Propagation with Calypso Diving and Ocean Gardener

  • Self-Policing- I have been out and diving and seen people touching the wildlife, picking up coral, dropping weights, and even throwing trash in the sea. Ethier, I went over to them during the dive, spoke to them on the surface, or called the dive center and the issue was resolved. There are even instances of divers I know accidentally touching wildlife and getting fined. In general, divers really do care about the ocean and make sure it is taken care of. 
  • Teaching- When you take a course your instructor should teach you how to interact with wildlife and be a steward of the ocean. Besides regular courses, you can take specialty courses from organizations like PADI, SSI, and NAUI. Who better than an experienced diver or a marine biologist to teach others about what is happening in the ocean?
  • Research- Not only marine biologists do research, there simply isn’t enough of them. Also, why should the university stop you from helping out the environment? I have seen firsthand how places like Gili Shark Conservation do research, employ locals and help out endangered species. 
  • Clean Up- By picking up trash while diving, scuba divers help protect the seas, beaches, and local areas. There are some organizations around the world that even give money to locals that collect plastic and turn it in. I have spent a lot of time in South East Asai and Trash Hero is in a lot of small areas helping out and educating people on the dangers of using single-use plastic and littering. 
  • Raises Awareness- Scuba divers are on the front line of watching how the sea is being damaged. We have the chance to see what’s happening in the world and spread the good word. Everything is connected but not everyone gets a chance to see it.

    Student passing his course.

    Another successful student.

  • Boat Pollution and Damage-This is one that is hard to stop since boat diving is often an essential part of diving (not all of us can beach dive every day). Even getting to islands is usually by ferry and ferries and boats pollute the water with oil, gas, and other contaminants. This can have short and long-term impacts on the coral reefs and fish. There are other issues like hitting animals such as dugongs or manta and sometimes people even drop anchors and destroy corals. 
  • Diver Pollution and Damage- The first thing you learn in a course (besides looking cool and breathing) is buoyancy. The reason for this is not only for your safety but so you don’t hit corals or wildlife. It usually comes from finning and kicking corals if you have poor buoyancy. Some divers are taught poorly and touch and pick up things. This is one of the reasons we tell divers not to wear gloves as it encourages this behavior. and even pick up coraDiver-caused reef damage is not a new accusation, nor is it false. 
  • Sunscreen and Skin products- While you should wear some sort of sun protection like a rash guard or a shirt a lot of people wear sunscreen. If you don’t choose a reef-safe one this can kill and bleach corals. Some states and countries like Hawaii and Australia have even banned the use of non-reef-safe sunscreens. The bad sunscreens contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate among them. This goes for some shampoos, skin creams, and even mask defoggers, they all can get into the water, so please read the ingredient list on your sunscreen and other personal care products.
  • Over Diving- When too many divers dive in the same spot repeatedly the environment gets damaged over time.  Even without noticing it, divers can harm the environment with each dive. People do bump corals accidentally, sit on the bottom and scare away fish. The loud noises from the boats can also change fish patterns. These negative effects are thankfully being noticed and some countries banned scuba diving in major coral diving spots. This helps to help protect and restore the ecosystem,  Thailand banned scuba diving and so has the Philippines in some places.

    Plastic Ocean Waste

    Plastic Ocean Waste

  • Spearfishing- While it is legal to spearfish with scuba tanks in a lot of places some and almost everywhere freediving some spears just indiscriminately kill fish. They may kill the large males, and females or just overfish. I don’t condone youtube fishing and think that fish are meant to be looked at not eaten.  This also can lead to the spear hitting corals or even other divers. The lines on these are sometimes cut and get lost in the last sea as well.

Tips to be an Eco-Friendly Diver

Here are some tips to help you become an eco-friendly scuba diver:

  1. Eco-friendly Trip Planning- Try to choose resorts and dive centers that have vegan options, limit their single-use plastics, and help to clean up the local environment. You want to choose places that show off the educational aspect of diving and discuss geology and marine life as well. The downside is that it often isn’t the cheapest place as quality over quantity is what’s important, here are some tips to find a good resort. The ratio of divers per instructor/ dive guide is important because if there are too many divers, not only is it a poor experience, others might be touching the reefs or other inappropriate behavior. 
  2. Don’t Eat Fish- Overfishing is happening all over the world and bycatch kills even more. Over half the plastics in the ocean are from fishing gear.  I gave up fish when I started diving after seeing what was happening to the oceans.
  3. Have the Right Gear- Having gear to cover you up, keep you protected, and be neutrally buoyant is good but little things like a reusable water bottle are also important. Things like a mesh bag to collect trash is nice, and a dive knife to cut away fishing lines, that are caught in corals or floating by is helpful as well. Scuba diving gear
  4. Eco-Friendly ProductsScuba divers can protect coral reefs by being eco-friendly as mentioned above. Try to use reef-safe products like sunscreen, mask defogger, and skin products.
  5. Be Knowledgeable- Knowing where you are going, what the hazards are, and what wildlife is around helps you not only to be a better diver but gives you the ability to be safe and keep the animals safe as well.  
  6. Practice- If you have access to a pool or sandy patch with no corals and wildlife make sure you are confident before you go out. Watch other divers, how they react, and how they move in and out of the water.
  7. Don’t Touch-  Don’t touch anything and unless it is very cold try not to wear gloves. When you touch wildlife it disrupts their patterns and oils from your hands could even get them sick or kill them. 
  8. Don’t Feed the Animals- This food is not their natural food and could make them sick or kill them. It also gets them used to humans and they may even come around when they see divers. This leaves them susceptible to being eaten or caught by spearfishermen. 
  9. Minimize Single-Use Plastic- In poorer areas single-use plastic is rampant as it is cheap and large companies pray on these people. The plastic gets thrown away and is either burnt or possibly ends up in the ocean. 

Final Thoughts 

All things considered, diving is a plus for the environment as long as you are responsible, safe, and eco-friendly. Just because there can be possible negatives, it should not stop anyone from scuba diving. Remember to educate yourself and always dive responsibly.


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