Scuba Diving Planet Earth
A whopping 71% of our planets surface is covered with water. 97% of this can be found in our oceans. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are over 332,519,000 cubic miles of water on the planet. A cubic mile is the volume of a cube measuring one mile on each side. That’s a lot of water!
In 2013, NASA’s exploration budget was roughly $3.8 billion with total yearly funding in the $18 billion dollar range. That same year, total funding for everything NOAA does, management of fisheries, weather and climate forecasting, ocean research and management, among many other programs, was about $5 billion, and NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research received just $23.7 million. This clearly explains why we know more about the surface of Mars than our own sea floor. In fact, an astounding 95% of our oceans floor remains unexplored.
As scuba divers, we explore these oceans in search of adventure and thrill. With this privilege comes great responsibility. We are the ambassadors of our environment, educating others on the wonders and the delicate nature of our precious underwater world.
When engaging in the marine environment we should remember that the ocean and it’s reefs are home to a multitude of species. The biology of the coral reef is an amazing interaction of elemental forces and the balance between all the species that visit and inhabit the reef. Scuba divers have a role in preserving the health of the reef, and divers have the ability to reduce their impact and have a positive effect on the wellbeing of this delicate ecosystem.
Although there are many ways divers can reduce their impact on the marine environment, we have chosen five that anyone can easily follow.
Practice neutral buoyancy
Buoyancy control is one of the most essential skills that you can learn and perfect as a certified diver. Being aware of your surroundings and keeping clear of the reef while diving is a must. If you’re confident in your buoyancy, aim to be at least 3 feet away from the reef at all times. Make sure you know where your fins are in relation to the reef. Kicking corals is a no-no and in some places might even get you banned from diving all together. Be careful how you position yourself and your camera equipment, adjust your buoyancy appropriately, taking care not to touch anything in order to take a photograph or complete a task.
Take only pictures, leave only bubbles
While many popular diving destinations have laws governing what can be taken from the water, as divers we should set an example for others to follow. Don’t take anything from the dive site, except garbage. Unfortunately, coral and other marine species find their way into products or souvenirs. Rare and endangered black Coral is made into beautiful and desirable jewelry. The high price it commands, has lead to its over harvesting, and has lead to its near extinction. Black coral may take thousands of years to grow. Take care when buying any by-product from any coral reef, because you could be driving an industry that may harvest materials irresponsibly, and negatively impact the reef.
Look but don’t touch
Corals and other marine creatures are fragile and easily killed by a grasping hand or a careless fin kick. In the Cayman Islands, marine park laws prohibit divers from wearing gloves while diving.
By simply wearing the gloves you are given a false sense of security which may lead you to holding on underwater. Many fish excrete a protective layer of mucous over their scales that acts as a buffer to the outside environment, much like human skin. Touching fish, even those that seem to enjoy it, can wipe off this layer and make the animal more susceptible to infections. Human beings are extremely social, and will readily copy behaviors they perceive to be acceptable. When diving, avoid touching, or handling animals. While others may be impressed with the bravado that comes from handling a free swimming nurse shark, they will ultimately admire you more if you show the animals, the reef, and the entire ecosystem the respect it deserves.
Choose sustainability, eat a lionfish
When it comes to many of our once-favorite seafood’s, there aren’t plenty more fish in the sea. In fact, scientists estimate that up to 90 percent of large predatory fish (those that eat other animals—and usually end up on our dinner plates) have disappeared due to over fishing. Marine animals are also caught and sold for aquariums and as souvenirs. You can avoid these pitfalls by only buying products that you know were sustainably harvested. Watch what you eat. Demand sustainable seafood at the supermarket and in your favorite restaurants. And when fishing for your own seafood, make sure you follow all local catch limits.
Choosing to eat invasive lionfish over local reef fish is always a wise and tasty decision. Lionfish are not native to Atlantic waters and they have very few predators. These invasive fish feed on small crustaceans and fish, including the young of important grazing fish that maintain the health of the reef.
Unfortunately, NOAA researchers have concluded that invasive lionfish populations will continue to grow and cannot be eliminated using conventional methods. Dive operations like Ambassador Divers on Grand Cayman offer a PADI lionfish culler certification teaching certified divers the techniques necessary to saftly remove the spiny invaders. Eating invasive lionfish is a great way to help local divers keep their reefs healthy and biodiverse.
Support local conservation efforts
Organizations like Reef, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, seek to conserve marine ecosystems for their recreational, commercial, and intrinsic value by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active stewards and citizen scientists. Their mission is to link the diving community with scientists, resource managers and conservationists through marine life data collection and related activities. By supporting conservation organizations and marine parks, through donations, volunteering, or paying visitor fees, you’re helping to preserve our marine environment for future generations to enjoy.