Coral reefs are under threats from many sources. The most serious of these are closely related to the rapid growth of human populations , particularly in coastal areas that house coral reefs.
There is not much the average diver or snorkeler can do about such things as global warming or ocean acidification. However, numerous scientific studies have unambiguously shown that dive tourism can also be a source of coral reef damage and other ecosystem impacts.
Further, it is also clear that there are a few things that the average coral reef explorer can do to ensure that their visits to coral reefs do not contribute to the problems already faced by these ecosystems.
Protecting coral reefs from the impacts of human visitors necessarily involves protecting not only the hard corals themselves, but also being mindful of the need to minimize visitor impacts on all the other plants and animals that make up the coral reef community.
This not only involves avoiding physical injury to these creatures, but also avoiding the disruption or alteration of coral reef animal behavior.
For example at some popular dive tourism destinations, divers (and even dive dive operators) regularly feed or otherwise harass (chase, touch) marine life (see photo, left).
In such areas, the behavior and distribution of animals treated in such ways become dramatically altered from the natural state. Such changes can persist for a very long time, even if these types of harassment cease.
Such adverse effects may have ecosystem-level repercussions as well as population level impacts of the species harassed, and also increase the risk of animal attacks upon humans. That is why this type of visitor behavior has been completely prohibited in all U.S. and Canadian National Parks for many years.
By learning and observing responsible diving practices, the individual diver or snorkeler can minimize the impacts of their visits to coral reef ecosystems.
To that end, we provide the following “Reef Friendly Diving Practices” based upon scientific evidence, the recommendations of some of the leading marine conservation organizations, and authoritative publications* aimed at protecting coral reef ecosystems from dive tourism-related damage.
Kick up sand/sediment with your fins
Feed or attempt to feed fish or any other marine life
Spear, hook or capture any marine life
Harass, chase, or try to ride marine life such as turtles, manatees, sharks, etc.
Take rocks, pieces of coral, shells, or any other parts of the natural habitat
Dump or throw anything overboard.
Avoid touching or contacting corals or other reef dwelling organisms
Wear a t-shirt rather than oils or lotions to protect your skin from the sun
Where available, ask for a pre-dive briefing on the local reef ecosystem before you dive
If you are on a private vessel, make sure that the boat captain does not run aground, or anchor on the reef
*Adapted from: (1)It’s my Choice: Coral or No Coral – Communication Tool Kit United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), 2002; and (2) Voluntary Standards for Marine Recreation in the Mesoamerican Reef System, ICRAN Mesoamerican Reef Alliance Standards and Code Taskforce, 2007.