Monday, February 28, 2011

Protecting Coral Reefs - A Guide For Scuba Divers

Are recreational divers capable of causing substantial damage to coral reefs? The answer is clearly a resounding YES. There is now overwhelming scientific evidence that scuba divers and snorkelers directly and indirectly damage coral colonies and other reef life through a variety of inadvertent and/or deliberate behaviors.

Inexperienced or insufficiently trained reef explorers often damage corals (and themselves) through inadvertent bodily contact, by allowing spare regulators and gauge consoles to hang unsecured, or by deliberately standing on, touching or even harvesting corals.

Divers and snorkelers also may cause sedimentation damage to corals by swimming too close to the bottom or dragging their legs - practices that cause the fins to raise clouds of sand that then settle on living nearby polyps.

Such inadvertent, skill-related problems have been recognized for some time, and properly trained SCUBA divers have been specifically instructed against physical contact with reefs, and taught how to minimize this sort of problem by proper positioning, swimming movements, gear arrangement, and buoyancy control.
Unfortunately for reefs however, the problem of diver damage, rather than being alleviated through proper education and training, has actually been exacerbated in recent years by a profit-motivated headlong rush to put anyone and everyone on a reef as painlessly and quickly as possible.

The result is that a very large number of the divers visiting reefs today have received far from sufficient training or practical experience needed to be "reef-friendly" underwater visitors. Rather, many have received minimal "resort course" training and are essentially using SCUBA for the first time. Despite the best of intentions and the personal escort of an instructor, these visitors simply lack the knowledge, training, and skills to stay off the reef or otherwise negatively impact coral reef ecosystems.

Many of the impacts to coral reef ecosystems by sport divers and snorkelers can be greatly alleviated through proper diver training combined with adherence to a few simple "reef friendly" dive practices recommended by leading marine conservation authorities. A summary of these are as follows:

1. Learn and observe all local, state and federal regulations regarding natural resource use and protection in any reef area you plan to visit
2. Ensure that you and your buddy have all equipment securely and closely attached to your persons
3. Stay far enough above the bottom so as to not raise clouds of sand with your fins
4. Patronize dive operators who respect and follow these guidelines

1. Allow your body or equipment to physically contact the reef or its inhabitants
2. Throw or discharge anything into the waters or substrates around the reef environment
3. Remove any part of the reef environment
4. Attempt to feed, touch, chase, or otherwise harass reef fishes and/or other coral reef marine life
You are encouraged to explore and enjoy coral reefs as often as you wish, but do so with respect for these threatened and invaluable marine ecosystems. Being a responsible, reef-friendly diver is not difficult - all it takes is a bit of knowledge and a willingness to do your part.

For more information on how divers and snorkelers can help with protecting coral reefs, please visit us at: Dive Coral Reefs, and Reef Friendly Snorkeling

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