At Aliwal Shoal Scuba, we spend every day at sea, surrounded by the beauty of the underwater world. Our experiences have taught us that the marine environment is worth protecting – and that as divers, we are uniquely placed to do just that. The incentive is strong – after all, if marine species continue to disappear from the seas, and marine habitats continue to be destroyed, it is our dive sites that will suffer the consequences. We get so much pleasure from the marine environment that it seems only fair that we help fight for its future – so we’ve come up with five simple ways for all divers to do just that, whether they are diving on the Shoal, or anywhere else in the world.

Take only photos, leave only bubbles

It’s a well-known scuba diving mantra, and one that essentially translates to leaving the underwater world exactly as it was before we entered it. This means resisting the temptation to remove anything (like shells or coral) from the ocean, and making sure that nothing gets left behind, like man-made rubbish or debris. It also means making the effort to secure gauges so that they don’t drag along the seafloor and destroy fragile coral; and being able to maintain your buoyancy so that your hands and fins remain clear as well. Of course, there are obvious exceptions to the no-take rule – if you find rubbish on the reef left by other, less conscientious divers, you should remove it if you can.

Interact responsibly with marine life

One of the best things about diving is being able to encounter marine species in their own environment, and it is important that we do so responsibly. Touching marine animals is inadvisable, both in terms of diver safety, and for the animal’s well being – often, attempting to touch can cause stress and/or physical damage. It can also interfere with a species’ natural behaviour- for example, whale sharks that feel hassled by snorkelers will often dive, away from their food source on the surface. Other rules apply in certain situations – sometimes, divers will be asked not to use flash photography, or not to swim too closely to an animal’s mating ground or nesting site. By respecting these rules, marine life encounters can remain a positive experience for divers and animals alike.

Support environmentally friendly dive operators

Most dive centres, resorts and liveaboards will claim to contribute to marine conservation, but with a little research, you can see for yourself whether or not those claims have any worth. Try to choose operators that invest in the future of the ocean- whether by supporting local conservation efforts, by facilitating marine researchers, or by involving the local community through education and employment. If you are considering signing up for a specific animal encounter (i.e. shark diving, or swimming with whales or dolphins), make sure that the operator you choose is licensed to offer such encounters, and that you agree with the way they conduct their experiences.

Get involved with marine conservation

Wherever you live, or wherever you travel, your nearest coastline is likely to support at least one marine conservation project. These organisations need volunteers, and your skills as a diver are often invaluable. Ways to get involved include assisting with beach or reef cleanups, collecting data on marine species by observing them in their natural environment, conducting underwater transects to ascertain the health of the reef ecosystem, and contributing underwater images to ongoing photographic identification databases. You don’t have to be a scientist to perform these roles – you just have to be willing to learn, and able to commit your time and effort.

Choose Sustainable Seafood

Making the effort to choose sustainable seafood demonstrates that the emphasis for the fishing industries of the future must be on longevity rather than short-term profit. Knowing which choices are sustainable is often difficult, as it depends not only on the species in question, but also on the way in which it was fished or farmed, and the region that it comes from. For example, albacore tuna pole-caught from sustainable stocks in the South Pacific is acceptable; but the same species taken from dwindling stocks in the South Atlantic is not. There are several excellent sustainable seafood guides available around the world – in South Africa, see http://www.greenworks.co.za/SASSI_Pocket_Guide.pdf

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