June 07, 2016

Scuba diving, there’s nothing like it.

You are weightless under the waves, breathing underwater, and eye to eye with gazillions of brightly colored fish. Some stare back in equal wonder.

As we explore this world, we are temporary visitors. Do we “belong” here? Not really. As a result, there are certain rules of etiquette we must abide, and it starts with education.

The dive brief on the boat before taking the giant stride overboard is important. Not only does it provide important information regarding where you’re going and what the current is up to, it often includes a few warnings. “Don’t touch.” “Take only pictures, leave only bubbles.” “Don’t harass the wildlife.” “Stay with your buddy.” These are just a few of the many directions heard on boats around the world as divers embark on their undersea adventure, but have you ever wondered why?

Diver and turtle.

“Don’t touch anything.” Seems simple enough, but sometimes it’s hard to NOT pick up that shell, it’s empty, right? What about the inadvertent drag of a fin along the seafloor, a coral outcropping, or side of the wreck while trying to stabilize yourself for the perfect shot? Many of the creatures that live in the sea, including coral, are protected by a thin layer of mucus. Once that mucus layer is disrupted, the creature risks inflection, just as a cut in your skin would leave you exposed to such risks.

Breaking off any sort of growth on a coral reef is tantamount to destroying decades of construction and millions of homes. And those “empty” shells are more often than not home to a secondary tenant who moved in when the original owner moved out. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not in there.

You might be thinking, “Well I’m just one person, what harm could it cause?” Think about the number of people that visit the same ecosystem, and then imagine if they all felt the same way. It adds up. Marine ecosystems are fragile. They can become stressed and stressed ecosystems don’t hold up to change as well as healthy ones. Carelessness on our part could lead to a catastrophe.

Redlip Parrotfish.

Being a more knowledgeable diver can make your experience all the more fulfilling. And it’s not just how you treat the habitat, but what you know about it.

How many times have you climbed back up on the boat and heard, “Hey!! Did you see that big green fish with the pink cheeks?” And then listened to the animated discussion about what it could have been, none of the divers certain?

In addition to maintaining proper diver etiquette above and below the waves, education is key. The reef is a busy place. Understanding the basic behavior of the critters you’re looking for can help you to locate them. Knowing where to look is only half the battle. Recognizing what it is you’re looking at is also critical and can make for a much more rewarding dive.

So, take a few courses. Learn about the ecosystem you’re about to embark on. Listen to your dive guide. Respect the life you’re about to observe.

Your visit is only temporary, but your impact can be long-lasting.

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