The picture perfect coral reefs sheltering almost 25% of all marine life on earth is under constant threat of disappearing. Although the exact reasons for its deterioration are not clear, extensive studies are still being conducted to reach a better understanding of the matter. Indeed, a scuba diver’s impact on a coral reef can hardly be overlooked. As conscientious beings, it is our duty to do our bit in conserving the natural habitats of creatures that were here much before than us.
At their current rate of deterioration, it is estimated that in about two decades, we will lose all our coral reefs and complex marine habitats. This will not bode well for most nations including the United States who’s booming fishing industry depends largely on coral reefs. It will also strike a blow to revenues generated via tourism.
How Do Scuba Divers Harm The Coral Reefs?
Believe it or not, scuba diving has affected the natural marine ecosystem in a negative way.
A study based on the questionnaires of scuba divers revealed that most of them happen to come in direct contact with corals during their dive. These incidents accumulated over a long period of time result in permanent loss and damage to our water bodies by reducing its diversity in flora and fauna.
Although some of these incidents are accidental, like fin kicks, many are not. A few of these incidents are not enough to damage reefs but when taken together as a whole, these incidents can prove fatal to the life of these complex ecosystems. These artificial stressors bring with them the risk of infection and disease that can wipe out entire coral reefs.
Coral reefs are formed by deposition of layers of calciferous outer shell of sea creatures like polyps and anemones. Despite popular belief, corals are not always rough and stony. Soft corals abound in Fiji’s sea. These multi-storeyed colonies house several schools of small fishes, jellyfishes and provide them a safe haven to live. In spite of their outward appearance, coral reefs are in fact very thin, fragile membranes which can easily break away if repeatedly attacked by improper fin technique and buoyancy control.
Source: Coral Reefs of the Caribbean
Making Scuba Diving Safe Again
The responsibility to be protective of marine ecology lies equally on both professional and recreational divers.
Adhering to these rules will help in curbing any further damage to these beautiful structures and protect our sea floor.
- Sensitise yourself. We know most of the divers do not want to harm the beautiful life growing around them in any way but sometimes give in to temptation and end up touching the corals.
- Educating yourself about the marine life in your part of the world can go a long way in saving these reefs from depletion. It is true that coral reefs are also endangered because of other human activities that release sediments or factory run-offs into the water before treating them. You, as a diver, must already be sensitive of the levels of water pollution and refrain yourself from adding to it while on your dive. Avoid throwing anything in the water that does not already belong there.
- Scuba diving is a sport that entices one and all but does not necessarily suit everyone. In order to become a good scuba diver, you must enrol yourself in one of the several courses given out by institutions. These courses train you rigorously to perform better when under water without panicking, while at the same time, being respectful of the environment around you. Proper fin technique, buoyancy control, breathing exercise, and others, are a crucial part of being a good scuba diver.
Reversing The Damage Done
Source: How coral restoration works
If you are a scuba diver with an agenda of saving natural ecosystems, this section is for you.
Since the cause of depletion of coral reefs is not clearly understood, scientists across the world have come together in a joint venture to monitor the effects of human activities on coral communities. All these experiments can only be successful with the presence of an excellent scuba diver in situ.
- The initiative of Trash-free Waters by 2025 calls on board people from all walks of life to manage the issue of garbage and plastic found in water bodies.
- Florida Keys, the third largest coral reef system in the world, has initiated a Water-Quality Protection-Program which is set to promote fishing and tourism by improving water quality and restoring natural order.
- Another program under Florida Keys, Coral-Reef Evaluation & Monitoring-Program (CREMP), specifically targets long term changes in life cycles of sponges, anemones, algae, corals, and others that brought about by climatic as well as human factors.
- The Hawaii Coral-Reef Working-Group is another organisation that looks after the upkeep of coral life in the Hawaiian region. It promotes scientific research in the field to protect its natural heritage. In addition to all these government-sanctioned programs, many community-based programs also take place which require experienced scuba divers to participate in taking stock of the marine biology by counting fish colonies, etc. This creates a solid database which can be used at a later time as a base reference. Many environmental organisations use this data to compare and publish their findings.
The Natural World In All Its Glory
Coral reefs are like mountains inside sea. Getting a chance to see any one of these is an experience of a lifetime. It’s impossible to compare one to the other but here, we have made a feeble attempt at trying to do just that. Pick any, pick all. They are all gems of the underwater world.
No one should be allowed near these age-old living structures if they do not possess passion and warmth for our the amazing world we live in. Armed with proper knowledge and expertise, anyone can be a part of these scuba diving coral reef excursions that take you to the deepest deep of the ocean without causing any harm to its inhabitants.
- The top favourite – The Great Barrier-Reef in Australia. A UNESCO site, this 2,300 km long strip is the largest living structure on earth. Composed of various soft and hard corals, they are home to an array of colourful fishes, anemones, molluscs, and jellyfish.
- The largest living coral reef in the United States, Florida Keys is mesmerising in its abundant biodiversity. Home to the long-spined sea urchins, the sea floor is covered with sea grass.
- Fiji islands – The greatest soft coral reefs are found here. Most magnificent examples of tunnels and canyons can be witnessed here. The aquatic life is buzzing with small red and yellow fishes that peek out of their tiny coral windows.
- Go to Hawaii, United States – Perhaps the most relaxed of all the above places, go here for the beautiful reefs and PiÃ±a Colada, of course! This combo is irresistible. Take a dip in the waters of Molokai, Maui, Oahu, and the other islands to treat your eyes to the wondrous beauty of these coral reefs. In the summer months, scuba diving and snorkelling are the most sought after water sports here.
- Lakshadweep, the coral islands, India – Probably the least famous of the lot, this is an archipelago of atolls as well as coral reefs. Coral gardens as well asoverhangs, and shipwreck await your welcome. If you are looking for some peace and quiet, this is the place for you.
- Last, but probably the most sought after, The Palancar reef. Located off the coast of Mexico, the corals of this reef are exquisite in their beauty. These waters harbour barracuda, manta rays, and more.We suggest you read up extensively before booking to avoid any last minute confusion or hassle. All of these places have different peak and off seasons. A quick look at any number of travel guides should easy that worry. Many coral reef packages are available online, pick one that suits you and get ready to spend the best days of your life snorkelling away in deep seas.
How Can We As Non Scuba Divers Play Our Part?
Nature provides for all of us and we in turn should do whatever we can to preserve it.
Building focus groups to bring attention to this problem can sensitize several hundreds of people who continue to pollute sea and river water.
Voluntary participation in cleaning and sensitization missions, organised by green organisations will not only strengthen the diving community but also mobilise government support and action.
Putting a ban on dynamite fishing or at least choosing spots wisely so as to not disturb and disrupt the entire natural balance.
Lastly, condemning any activity that harms the underwater world. Many ideas look good on paper but are never really implemented in our private lives because they are formidable. An honest effort to realise our goal will surely benefit all of us.
Remember, the world is our playground, true, but to keep it safe and healthy for other species is the most important responsibility of its biggest players – us.
An informed and educated approach to diving deep will ensure that the interdependence between man and nature continues unhindered. The colours of the world can only be seen in a harmonious ecosystem.
The U.S. Geological survey, conducted by U.S. Coral-Reef Task-Force, works to establish environmental and artificial stressors that effect the health of coral reefs.