I recently wrote about scuba diving in a place that makes it easy to dive on your own. My instinct would be that this type of diving would have more potential for damage to the reef from human visitation. I would have thought that dive guides would help ensure that divers are not kicking, touching, and otherwise harming the reef. Some dive operations take on this role, but most do not, and I don’t think diving ‘on your own’ makes a difference. You either learned to dive carefully, or you did not.
In my modest but growing experience as a diver, I have observed many different types of divers. Some are all over the place, with arms and legs flailing around on a regular basis. Others move calmly at all times, usually in a perfectly horizontal position in the water, hands folded under themselves with legs slowly moving in an odd back-and-forth pattern (horizontally like a modified breaststroke kick instead of an up-down freestyle kick).
Families are often in one category or the other – as a group instead of individually. Does this come from training or observing one another? A combination of both?
Certainly, as humans, we copy those around us. But I also think it has a lot to do with how we are trained. And I don’t think that dive instructors and leaders (dive masters that take groups out) are doing enough to foster the calm approach – and more importantly, to teach the calm approach along with an ethos to not touch the reef when diving. We dive in very fragile areas (often, and usually as tourists), and while a small hand placed here to get a picture, or a kick to the reef due to poor buoyancy, may not make an immediate impact, hundreds and thousands of people add up over time to damage the reef. With reefs suffering from other human effects from warming oceans to ingredients in traditional sunscreen, let’s not cause more damage.
The thing is, when teaching new divers, it is difficult to teach good buoyancy because they do not have good enough basic skills to fine tune their movement in the water. I now understand and love the experience of controlling buoyancy with my breath, but it took me many dozens of dives to experience this and truly understand how to get there. Since most divers only take a basic course, it falls to those dive leaders to help foster the ethos of caring for the reef. Some dive operations really do a great job of this, but others couldn’t care less.
[Quickly, for nondivers – when I talk about buoyancy, it’s how you control where you are in the water. We use weights to help us sink, and then moderate how much air we have in a little backpack we wear (at least this is the most common setup). Initially when beginning a dive, we let out all the air in that little backpack so we can sink, then when we reach our initial depth, we add some air back in to stop the sinking. The level of air gets adjusted throughout the dive to maintain good buoyancy. However, we have lungs. They hold air. When we are diving well, we will rise and fall with each breath. I find this very cool. You can control where you are moving with the breath and fins in a nuanced, lovely, way.]
After Bonaire, we did two boat dives in Curacao. Our group of 3 went with 2 other guests and a dive guide. The other 2 were very good divers, but one carried a HUGE camera and she constantly grabbed onto things to hold herself steady to get a good picture. She also often lost track of where her lower body was, and would bump and kick other parts of the reef.
Our guide said nothing, and shamefully, neither did I. (I’m still debating with myself whether this was the correct approach or not. One one hand, I feel it would not be appropriate for me to say anything. But if I don’t, why should anyone else? But if I did, would it actually do any good? She knows perfectly well what she is doing. One solution would be dive operations that didn’t allow anyone to touch the reef. Period. A cultural rule such as this really can have an impact.)
What’s the takeaway besides my rant?
When I started diving, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I used to move my arms like crazy and make big changes to air levels that screwed with my buoyancy. I am thankful to an Advanced course instructor, and later a dive guide in Roatan who both helped me improve buoyancy, which in turn helps me protect the reef.
As teachers of anything, we can be cognizant that we have a role to help teach each other to be the best citizens we can be. As students, we look to you to understand how to behave ourselves.
As students, we can observe and ask questions. Learning is a constant practice.
In diving it is sometimes challenging to be aware of where our body is in the water in relation to the world around us. Where in life are you causing side effects that you are not aware of because you do not see where your body (actions etc) are having an impact?