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Would you harm an animal for a picture
don't touch the reef

What can you touch underwater? – Jon Milnes

How many divers touch the Reef, the Corals or even the Fish when diving?

Is it normal practice for divers, nowadays, to pick up and touch things on their dive?

Christina Christensen is a good friend of mine who is a recently qualified Open Water Scuba Instructor. Whilst discussing our diving experiences by email, she got on to the subject of irresponsible divers.

This is what she said:

“From my experience with customers, I’ve come across too many examples of people acting like the underwater environment is their own personal playground.

I really wish some of the divers I met would have more awareness of the impact they have. It is part of my job as an instructor to teach awareness from the moment we enter open water.

Is interacting with sharks good

Greg Amptman

In my experience, even when stressed in a teaching environment, some people just don´t seem to care. I´m not always in a teaching position either, part of the job is also to take certified and experienced (by the number of dives) divers out on guided trips.

I found a dilemma between being a positive guide, working as a representative for a dive shop, and looking after their business. You´d really want the customers to have a happy experience and come back, right, and at the same time express clear leadership on what is acceptable or not while scuba diving.

This is a bit hard sometimes, especially when guiding people with far more dives, experience, expensive equipment, and educational level,” says Christina

See the Dive Guide Who Makes a Puffer Fish Puff for the Sake of Entertainment

Raise the Awareness

I can relate to what she is talking about. I have also been in a position where I’ve felt that I should be promoting and encouraging proper diving practices, but I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers with my boss by upsetting a customer. Especially when they should know these things better than me.

What can you do in these circumstances?

Christina continues:

“I’m going to tell you a horror story and I´d really like to find some scientifically grounded reasons for why it is important to stick to the recommendations of interaction as stated by the educational system of diving!

Maybe it can help raise some awareness?”

Harm to Animals for a Picture

Bad diver behavior

Is touching calm marine life okay?

“There were pictures attached to the email which made me upset. They were of divers who were causing harm to animals and the environment, clearly just to get neat photo opportunities. This was the story which accompanied them:

During my Instructor Development Course, I went on quite a few dives as a Divemaster. Among the divers I accompanied was a couple from the USA and a brother who´d come down to celebrate an anniversary.

My job was to guide them for two days on four dives at different locations; a fun-dive package deal.

They were Advanced Open Water divers with 300 dives under their collective BCD wings. They were equipped with the latest expensive personal gear and each of them had an underwater camera. On the trip out we got to chat some and I learned they´d been many wonderful places around the world. Diving in multiple locations and I took an instant liking to them.

They seemed open, happy and looking for some good dive experiences.”

“On our dives, they displayed what was, in my opinion, a somewhat different attitude. Hitting the bottom with a crash they continued trawling the seabed touching everything: The turtles, the corals, and the fish (I secretly wished they would touch a scorpionfish to teach them a lesson).

They even scared a pufferfish into blowing up so they could take pictures. They goofed around with the camera, oblivious to the environment in order to get the greatest shots. They were an absolute mess.

Would you harm an animal for a picture

Would you ever make a pufferfish puff? – Stephan Kerkhofs

I didn’t tell them off at the time because I was in shock; watching in horror almost to the point of amusement at the textbook fails on everything they did. They had obviously closed their eyes tight every time the PADI ‘bad diver’ appeared during the training videos.

I really wasn´t sure in what way I could make myself clear; being a rookie with limited experience in leadership and also being paid by the dive shop to be a guide, I found it really hard to express my concern. So I did nothing.

They’d had a great time. They complimented me on doing a great job and we became friends on Facebook. I have, however, been keeping an eye on their dive practice, mostly through the pictures they’ve posted online. My experience with these people raised a lot of questions in me and afterward I’ve always felt I hadn’t done my job properly” she continued.

Touch the Fish Pictures

What happens if you touch marine life

Rostislav Ageev

Today I just saw they posted another album of ‘touch the fish’ pictures. I felt my heart sink. I feel like I should question their dive-profile and see if I can help to change their attitude and their behavior.”

We were both really upset that these divers got to go to all the best dive sites in the world, swimming with schools of whale sharks, mantas, dolphins, etc… but treating the places as if they were their own, personal playgrounds.

So Christina and I did some internet searching and found a few articles with scientific research about the consequences of bad scuba diving practice for aquatic life. We wanted to make sure that these divers knew that there we scientifically grounded reasons behind our objections and that this wasn’t just something we had made up.

We also found reports from how the larger dive-community reporting divers with similar pictures on social media who consequentially have had their dive certifications suspended.

Christina felt reporting a little bit too harsh. She felt by not giving a clear message when she had the chance, she´d been partly responsible for them continuing to dive this way.

I suggested she´d keep the message simple, but clear. We decided to comment on their album with the PADI tips for divers as follows, which would hopefully help raise awareness.

1. Dive carefully to protect fragile aquatic ecosystems

Many aquatic organisms are delicate and can be harmed by the bump of a camera, the swipe of a fin or even the gentle touch of a hand. Some aquatic organisms like corals grow very slowly and breaking even a small piece can destroy decades of growth. By being careful you can prevent long term damage to magnificent dive sites.

2. Be aware of your body and equipment placement when diving

Keep your gauges and alternate air source secured so they don’t drag over the reef or other vital habitats. Control your buoyancy, taking care not to touch fragile organisms with your body or equipment. You can do your part and prevent injury to aquatic life every time you dive.

3. Keep your dive skills sharp through continuing education

Before heading to open water seek bottom time with a certified professional in a pool or other environment that won’t be damaged. You can also refresh your skills and knowledge with a PADI Scuba Review, PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course or Project AWARE Specialty course such as Peak Performance Buoyancy.

4. Consider how your interactions affect aquatic life

Avoid touching, handling, feeding or riding on aquatic life. These actions may stress the animal, interrupt feeding and mating behavior or provoke aggressive behavior in normally nonaggressive species.

5. Understand and respect underwater life

Playing with animals or using them as food for other species can leave a trail of destruction, disrupt local ecosystems and rob other divers of their experiences with these creatures. Consider enrolling in a PADI Underwater Naturalist, AWARE Fish Identification or Coral Reef Conservation Specialty course to better understand sustainable interactions.

6. Be an eco-tourist

Make informed decisions when selecting a destination and choose Project AWARE Environmental Operators or other facilities dedicated to sustainable business practices. Obey all local laws and regulations and understand your effect on the environment. Don’t collect souvenirs like corals or shells. Instead, take underwater photos and follow Project AWARE’s 10 Tips for Underwater Photographers.

7. Respect underwater cultural heritage

Divers are privileged to access dive sites that are part of our cultural heritage and maritime history. Wrecks can also serve as important habitats for fish and other aquatic life. Help preserve these sites for future generations by obeying local laws, diving responsibly and treating wrecks with respect.

8. Report environmental disturbances or destruction

As a diver, you’re in a unique position to monitor the health of local waters. If you notice unusual depletion of aquatic life, injury to aquatic animals or strange substances in the water, report these observations to responsible authorities in your area.

9. Be a role model for other divers and non-divers when interacting with the environment

As a diver, you see the underwater results of carelessness and neglect. Set a good example in your own interactions so that others can learn from you.

10. Get involved in local environmental activities and issues

You can greatly affect your corner of the planet. There are plenty of opportunities to support healthy aquatic environments including Project AWARE conservation and data collection activities like local beach and underwater clean-ups and Coral Watch monitoring, supporting environmental legislative issues, attending public hearings on local water resources, conserving water or making responsible seafood choices

Reporting Can Be a Difficult Task

The pictures got removed off the internet after an additional private message to the divers, amicably reminding them about the #1. Christina received the following reply:

scuba diver showing a shrimp to the camera

Is it okay if the guide shows you? – Rich Carey

“Hi Christina, I truly thank you for the message. That was a wonderful way of expressing your concern and you may consider it well received. I did remove the pictures but left your PADI statement up there. I hope this will be a good reminder to myself and others. With care, G.”

It can be tricky to balance being polite, friendly and making sure those diving with us are enjoying themselves with maintaining good standards, safety, and protection of the environment. As responsible scuba divers, it is our duty when we see divers like this we should send a clear message that this behavior is not OK and help them to be more aware of the impact they are having on our marine life.

And here ending the lesson

If you have been caught in a dilemma like this I would like to hear about it. This is, unfortunately, a situation that will continue to come up. And we can all support each other by discussing how to appropriately deal with these behaviors when they occur.

I look forward to reading your comments.