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Scuba diver's impact on a coral reef
- Mark Doherty

– Mark Doherty

Coral reef diving is an all-time favorite to most scuba divers. But like it or not, scuba divers are causing substantial damage to the world’s coral reefs.

Scientific evidence shows that divers are directly and/or indirectly responsible for damaging the reef life with some of their thoughtless behaviors. Not to say that all divers are harming reef life intentionally. But due to some divers’ lack of proper training, it is done unknowingly at times. Coral reef diving possesses some unique challenges compared to other methods of diving. A diver needs to have a passion and affection for nature when diving on a coral reef. Coral reefs are not solely beautiful colored rocks in the sea. They are living organisms that need extreme care and attention.

What Kind of Impact Do We Have on a Coral Reef?

Divers may not recognize that their diving sessions at coral reefs can have such a devastating impact on corals. Dive-related reduction of coral life is very gradual and small so the impact on the coral and the whole marine ecosystem is relatively low. Several years of study reveals only a small visible level of damage. But if the breaking down of the coral reefs continues, there could be severe long-term effects on the marine environment. Tiny amounts of depletion would then create drastic structural changes. This can then end in coastal erosion with a permanent loss to the marine ecosystem and its biodiversity.

Divers need to be aware of the 'butterfly effect' they have on coral reefs - Credit: Ocean Image Photography

Divers need to be aware of the ‘butterfly effect’ they have on coral reefs – Credit: Ocean Image Photography

Use of Buoyancy Controller and Fins

In the excitement while diving, the frenzied kicking from divers’ fins can hurt corals. So to avoid this, divers need to gain better control of their fins and legs when swimming. Having appropriate buoyancy control helps to provide better diving at reefs as well as diving in general. Being a pro in buoyancy control, divers have a greater understanding their behavior. This helps to regulate underwater movement.

Don’t Touch the Corals

People love to touch things. Divers need to keep in mind that there’s a limit to how much interaction they have with marine creatures. If divers touch the corals, it’s difficult for the corals to recover and leads to permanent damage. Unknowingly divers go beyond what touching they should really do. By doing this they cause damage and ultimately kill the coral. No diver wants this to happen.

A slight touch on a coral can lead to infection and might ultimately kill it - Credit: Dennis Sabo

A slight touch on a coral can lead to infection and might ultimately kill it – Credit: Dennis Sabo

It is often thought and believed that corals are made of hard material and grow in abundance so they can’t easily be destroyed. However, corals have a very thin and fragile membrane as their outer cover, which can be easily punctured by touching. When it’s pierced, it becomes exposed to any small infection. Not only that, when coral is touched the chances of it breaking off is pretty big. Seeing these issues, what should be divers’ responsibilities while diving at coral reefs? Here are a few simple facts to keep in mind:


  • Study about the marine life that you might see while diving.
  • Educate yourself about the maximum limit of interacting with corals.
  • Make sure you and your buddy are aware of the impact on coral reefs.
  • Firmly obey guidelines of safe diving.
  • Take respectful attitudes for coral-friendly diving.


  • Don’t touch any of the corals.
  • Don’t let your body come into contact with corals.
  • Don’t let your diving equipment hang loose. Secure all equipment so nothing bumps into the corals.
  • Don’t pollute the water with anything.
  • Don’t break of or take any pieces of the corals.

Become an Ideal Coral Reef Diver

It doesn’t require a great deal of effort to become a sensitive and technically sound coral reef diver. Possessing the willingness and strong determination toward saving nature is all that’s needed. Proper training during scuba courses can also help to a great extent. Divers must become reef-friendly by being properly trained, lessening negative impact on coral reefs. Buoyancy control, movement underwater, breathing control, etc. are all requirements for being a reef-friendly diver. Everyone can become model coral reef divers and inspire others, taking pride in the help, protection, and conservation of the coral reefs.

An ideal reef diver has perfect buoyancy skills - Credit: Rich Carey

An ideal reef diver has perfect buoyancy skills – Credit: Rich Carey

What Do the Statistics Say?

  • A devastating fact is that coral life is currently in danger.
  • Studies show that 1/4 of the total worldwide coral population has already vanished.
  • 88% of the remaining corals are in extreme danger.
  • South Asian coral reefs may become extinct if not cared for properly.
  • Global warming and dynamite fishing are a concern for coral life too. Divers need to try their best to stop it.

Best Coral Reef Diving Destinations

There are so many incredible coral reef diving destinations in the world! The Great Barrier Reef of Australia is one. Palau or Vanuatu might also be favorites among all the Indo-Pacific destinations. And keep the Caribbean destinations including Saba, Glover’s Reef, and San Salvador in mind too. Here’s The Top 5 Must-See Coral Reefs. But before traveling to these dive sites, divers have to first understand and adopt the skills and considerations for diving at coral reefs. Once this is accomplished, they can enjoy diving and observing the corals not causing any harm to a single one. Now wouldn’t that be a great achievement as a scuba diver?

Coral reefs are not just colored rocks, they too possess life - Credit: stephan kerkhofs

Coral reefs are not just colored rocks, they too possess life – Credit: stephan kerkhofs

Let all of us divers around the world take an oath: Let’s make sure all coral reefs remain a healthy habitat for every marine organism, trying our best to enjoy scuba diving without disturbing marine life in a harmful manner. What are you doing to help the reef? Tell us what us are doing, and if you need help to complete an ecofriendly project. Leave a comment below!