As divers, we are all well aware of the importance of preserving the ocean's coral reef systems. Diving over bleached or dying corals is a heartwrenching experience, made all the worse in the knowledge that it's most likely down to human factors. However, we can all do our bit to help reduce the devastating impact of our species on the environment, and however small our individual actions may appear, every positive effort makes a difference to an individual creature or habitat. So here are Bluewater's top tips for taking care of our coral reefs.
1. Do your research
I can't recommend enough the importance of researching a destination before you visit. Coral bleaching can happen suddenly, and to arrive on vacation expecting to spend the week exploring vibrant reefs only to find the opposite, is extremely disappointing. It is also important to understand how popular a destination is. Busy reefs will show the visible scars of careless divers and can be very frustrating to dive. If you are prepared to travel further, choosing a remote destination will reward you with pristine reefs in excellent condition.
Take a look at our guide to diving the stunningly remote Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.
2. Don't touch!
As tempting as it might be to poke, stroke, or pick up new and exotic discoveries during your dives, please don't! Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems, easily damaged by what may seem to be harmless curiosity. Even sand, dead coral, and empty shells play a role in the tropical circle of life, and where one diver's actions may seem minor, think of the effects of thousands of people all doing the same thing. Above all, have consideration for future divers who will want to enjoy the reef as you have, rather than an altered version.
3. Secure your kit
Ok, so it may seem like we're going back to basics with this one. We all learned how to clip away hoses and SPGs during our Open Water course, but I still see many experienced divers dangling octopuses, torches, or other kit around them like a Christmas tree. As well as creating a snagging hazard and causing expensive damage to equipment, unsecured kit smashes up coral heads with surprising ease.
Now that wing and harness systems are becoming popular, consider investing in a pair of neoprene tech shorts with pockets big enough to store all the extra bits and pieces you want to dive with.
4. Take a buoyancy course
Another fundamental skill, but this one is a bit harder to achieve. Being able to hover in neutral buoyancy is a skill that many divers take a while to achieve, however, once they do it suddenly makes everything that much easier. Having control of your buoyancy will give you control over your position in the water so that you don't inadvertently land on fragile corals. Trim (your body position) is equally important - try to swim in a horizontal position, and ideally use a frog kick so that you don't kick the reef with your fins.
Read more of our tutorials and guides for underwater photography.
5. Be a responsible photographer
Many photographers are taught to hug the bottom and rest their body and elbows down on the seabed for stability when taking shots. Be aware that whatever you touch, coral or not, you will leave an imprint, so choose your resting place carefully.
I have also heard of photographers moving marine creatures in order to get a better picture. As I mentioned above, please don't touch! We are there to observe, and we just don't know what impact our interference may have on that creature.
Check out our guides to the best underwater photography equipment.
6. Use reef-safe products
While we normally associate chemical pollution with big-scale industrial run-off, there are enough of us enjoying the oceans that our sunscreen and personal products are causing significant harm to reefs. Chemicals from sunscreens seep into the water and are absorbed by corals, disrupting their reproduction and growth cycles. Choosing reef-safe sunscreen and avoiding the use of chemicals to de-fog your mask is a great way to make a positive change.
Many destinations such as Hawaii and Palau in Micronesia are now banning the sale of sunscreens that contain harmful chemicals.
Do you have any other advice or other suggestions for responsible reef diving? Let us know your thoughts.