How To Protect the Ocean: 15 Things Divers Can Do To Help

A huge school of little silversides shoaling together en masse and a scuba diver underwater in Raja Ampat Indonesia – Things Divers Can Do to Help Save Our Oceans

Wondering how to protect the ocean? Here are a bunch of straightforward things to do and smart ways to help save the oceans as a diver.

Since the ocean covers more than 71% of our planet’s surface, it is home to an astounding diversity of species and affects everything from climate regulations to food systems.

It is crucial as divers that we protect our ocean from the effects of overfishing, climate change, and pollution as it encourages others to also protect the ocean that we love so much.

Whilst it’s easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed, the truth is, if everyone pitches in, then we can make a big difference.

Travel with A Trusted Company

When booking your next trip, consider booking with a reputable and responsible travel company that is committed to protecting our wildlife and empowering local communities. Check that the dive operator is following sustainable procedures and use local guides who are knowledgeable and aware of the rules and best practices. 

Ask your dive operator about their policies for anchoring, and how they can ensure that the coral reef isn’t harmed on impact. Ask if they’re properly educating their diving guests on proper diving etiquette. 

Some dive operators only care about profit, thus they try to cram as many divers as possible into one area which leads to overcrowding and a higher chance of damaging the natural environment.

Avoid Purchasing Certain Items

When traveling to another country, or dive site. Avoid purchasing local products that have been made from exploited marine life, such as coral jewelry, shark products, or tortoiseshell accessories. These products are often sourced from an unsustainable source, which contributes to the endangerment of these species.

Whilst purchasing some items may seem harmless like a seashell, in most cases these shells had a living animal in it before being harvested. When you purchase one, not only are you creating demand but you’re also taking away a marine animal’s potential home, building material, or food from the ocean ecosystem. These seashells are often harvested in large quantities, in countries with little to no regulations.

Use Reef Safe Sunscreen

Next time you’re at the beach relaxing, consider using reef-safe sunscreen instead. 

How do you know if your sunscreen is reef-safe? 

The best way is to check their active ingredients, if it contains substances such as Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, and Homosalate, then the sunscreen is not reef-safe. The full list can be found on the HEL list. These ingredients are commonly found in sunscreen as they absorb harmful UV rays. And, unfortunately, it’s also been linked to increased coral bleaching. 

In some states, like Hawaii, Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are banned ingredients in sunscreen. Instead, you should opt for organically certified sunscreen with as few ingredients as possible.

Go Single-Use Plastic Free

Single-use plastic items such as non-reusable water bottles, single-use plastic bags, and single-use straws are a global problem for our marine ecosystem, with an estimated 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean each year. These items are typically used once and then discarded in the trash. With a large percentage of it eventually entering the ocean. When it does enter the ocean, marine animals often mistake the plastic for food, which can kill them. 

The sad truth is that it’s estimated that plastic will continue to kill millions of marine animals and seabirds each year unless we do something about it.

To do your part, avoid using single-use plastic items and replace them with an alternative that can be reused or recycled properly, for example by bringing your own reusable bag when shopping or bringing a reusable water bottle.

Don’t Feed Marine Animals

When scuba diving, it’s important that you don’t feed the marine animals. In some countries, it’s even illegal to feed them while diving. This is to protect them and us.

Whilst it may seem like a fun way to play and interact with them, it disrupts their natural feeding habits and nutritional balance.

As they begin to associate humans with food, they may start to harass or bite divers in the future looking for food. The simple truth is that most marine animals aren’t dependent on our help to eat.

Minimize Contact

People in general love touching things. It is important that divers limit the amount of interaction they have with marine animals, especially coral, as they are extremely fragile. 

A common misconception is that coral is made of hard materials and that touching them won’t hurt them. Unfortunately, this is not true. The coral’s outer cover is made from a very thin and fragile membrane, that can be easily punctured from a slight touch. This can lead to infections and ultimately death. 

The best way to avoid this is to make sure that all your diving gear is properly secured, practice the correct finning technique to avoid accidentally bumping into them and observe them from afar.

Be Smart When Purchasing Scuba Gear

As passionate explorers of the ocean, we as scuba divers can help reduce the impact on the underwater world by being smarter with our scuba gear purchases. 

With the increase of rubbish entering the ocean each year, why not purchase second-hand scuba gear or scuba gear made using sustainable methods? 

Not only is purchasing second-hand gear cheaper, but we’re reducing the amount of environmental waste. Some scuba diving gear can be very costly, ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands, for example, one of the best dive computers for beginners on the market, the Suunto Zoop Novo Dive Computer can set you back around $250. 

If you intend to purchase second-hand gear, make sure you get it tested properly to ensure that there aren’t any problems with it.

Use a Proper Technique

When scuba diving underwater, it’s important that divers use the correct finning technique when swimming and practice proper buoyancy control. Buoyancy is what controls our movements underwater.

Using the correct techniques not only provides a better diving experience but also reduces the impact on the corals. For example, using the proper technique, you can hover motionless over coral and then ascend back up without using your hands.

Perfecting your buoyancy control will allow you to better manage your air and your positioning in the water, and overall give you more control over your diving.

It is important to note that it takes practice. The more you practice, the better you will be.

Clean Up After Yourself

Whether you’re relaxing on the beach, scuba diving, fishing, or snorkeling, always make sure to clean up after yourself. Anything that doesn’t belong in the ocean should be taken with you. When you’re out fishing, try not to leave anything behind, as leaving behind nets, lines, or hooks can harm or entangle marine life, as well as destroy coral reefs.

It is estimated that 80% of all marine debris stems from land-based sources, whilst the remaining 20% comes from discarded fishing gear.

When you’re out and about, also be on the lookout for any trash floating around. If possible, take the rubbish with you and dispose of it properly as it reduces the chance of marine animals eating it or endangering themselves.

Join a cleanup

There are various beach clean-up groups around the world dedicated to cleaning up trash from our beaches and oceans. Volunteers usually spend a few hours on the beach or in the ocean cleaning up trash left behind by us.

A beach clean-up is not only a great way to get exercise, but if you bring along your kids, it can also be a great learning experience for them. To participate in a clean-up dive, ask your local dive operator for more information or participate in the PADI AWARE initiative. Volunteer in a local group and do your part in cleaning up the ocean!

When scuba diving, you could also consider bringing along a small bag to collect any small rubbish along the way.

Support Organizations that Protect the Oceans

There are various organizations and institutes such as Mission Blue, Lonely Whale, Project AWARE, and Sea Shepherd that are working hard to protect our oceans and marine life.

Each organization has a different mission, so you’ll need to find an organization that you resonate with. These organizations typically rely on donations or merchandise sales to fund their operations. Consider donating financially, or volunteering some of your time to support the cause. A little bit can go a long way!

Avoid Seafood

Giving up seafood is a tough choice, not only is it healthy but yummy. The truth is, fishing is a huge threat to our ocean, many fishes have already become extinct and many more are in danger of becoming extinct due to overfishing and bycatch.

What’s a Bycatch? A bycatch is a fish or marine life caught unintentionally whilst targeting a certain fish. Marine life such as dolphins, sharks, turtles, birds, and more all share the same area, so they’re often accidentally caught in the nets. In most cases, they’re discarded back into the ocean already dead or about to die. In some instances, the amount of bycatch that is caught drastically surpasses the number of target species captured.

If you can’t give up seafood, then try to avoid over-fished fishes such as Bluefin Tuna, Sturgeon, Sea bass, etc. as it helps reduce the demand for them. Consume fishes that are in season and those that have been sourced from a ‘sustainable source’.

However, here’s a word of caution if you want to go down that route: As it has come to light lately, the majority who claim to be so cannot actually guarantee that the source is sustainable, which is why this is a highly controversial topic on which there is still much work to be done.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

With the increase of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gasses, our oceans take the brunt of the force by making our oceans more acidic. This leads to the destruction of corals, warmer waters, an increase in sea level, affects how fishes swim and reproduce, and can even change the weather on land.

You can reduce your carbon footprint by following these simple steps:

Educate Yourself

Continuously grow and learn more about the world and our oceans. Become an expert in marine conservation, hold a workshop for fellow divers or watch documentaries to learn about the effects of overfishing, coral bleaching, and how we can protect our oceans.

The more we understand about our planet, the more information we can share with others.

Some recommendations for films/documentaries are:

  • Shark Water: Released in 2006, this reveals the dark truth behind the slaughter of millions of sharks each year. This has helped change the public perception of the ocean’s apex predator, from being a threat to an essential part of our ocean.
  • End of the Line: Released in 2009, this documentary focuses on the effect of overfishing and how human greed has critically damaged the world’s fish stock. This documentary raises awareness of these problems, and how we can go about solving these issues. One of them is choosing sustainably sourced seafood.
  • A Plastic Ocean: Released in 2016, A Plastic Ocean is a highly-rated film that follows a journalist and a team of scientists around the world exploring the state of our ocean, and how pollution has affected our oceans.
  • Seaspiracy: Released in 2021, this documentary explores the impact of commercial fishing on our environment and shows the dark side of commercial fishing, from deception to slavery.

Become an Ambassador

Spread awareness around the community by communicating why protecting the ocean is so important. Give simple-to-follow tips on how they can help, and encourage them to make a difference.

Getting up early is not painful when scuba diving awaits you.

Lead the way and show less experienced divers how they can practice sustainable behavior. They’ll most likely mimic you and spread the knowledge if they believe in you.

Use social media to attract a larger audience by publishing beautiful underwater photos accompanied by a story or information to raise awareness.

Scuba divers have no excuse, as they have access to a plethora of beautiful underwater scenery!

Make A Difference – Things Divers Can Do to Help Save Our Oceans

Oxygen tanks at Big Blue Diving Koh Tao School, Thailand.

For most divers, diving is nothing more than a hobby we enjoy to relax and have fun. However, if we don’t protect our oceans, there may not be one in the near future. At our current rate, our future generations may not have an ocean to explore, unless we do something about it.

Speak out for the ocean, and do your part in protecting the ocean. Every little bit helps, no matter how small.