Why Scuba Diving Could Soon Become Extinct

Thailand banned it. Conservationists are calling for much stricter rules around it.

Scuba diving, the popular and fun way to see the underwater beauty of tropical spots all around the world, may be doing more environmental damage than its worth.

A Dying World

Twenty-seven percent of the world’s coral reefs are already damaged or lost, according to The World Resources Institute.

If the current rate of destruction continues, that number will reach 60% by the year 2030. That’s over half the world’s reefs lost forever.

That’s the loss of homes for a variety of sea life, from life-sustaining bacteria to worms to fish.

These “rainforests of the sea” provide a safe haven for 25% of marine species, so the breakdown of the reefs not only the means mass movement of fish and their sustenance, but also loss of food for us.

A snap-shot of the underwater world in Bali by Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten
Coral reefs provide homes for 25% of all marine life.

Who’s Killing the Coral?

The beauty of coral reefs invites divers to view their lustrous colors and varied exteriors, yet the fragility of these systems make them susceptible to damage.

It begins with the under-water pressure of boats as they take people to their diving destinations.

Divers then add to the damage as they knowingly or unknowingly scrape and touch the reef with their hands. The cycle continues with damaged corals not being able to fight off parasites and disease, breaking them down further.

Diving in Fiji by derekkeats.
Scuba diving has been described as a life changing and even spiritual experience.

There are those who blame the disintegration of the coral reefs purely on pollution and other environmental concerns.

But some studies suggest healthy reefs with little impact from pollution or poor fishing practices show signs of tarnish and weaknesses due to the effect of divers.

Other studies conducted by scientists from the Marine Research Center show definitive links between areas frequented by divers having more damage to their coral reefs than non-dived areas close by.

Worse, in the past, divers who haven’t been educated about their impact on ocean life are more than just mindless when it came to protecting the reefs.

Instructors have noted that people sit, kick, or break off chunks of reef as they take in the splendid underwater scenery.

Given, minimal damage occurs per diver. But when you add up the amount of people that dive over time, especially in popular locales such as Bali, Fiji, and Florida, this points to a substantial impact.

Healthy coral in Singapore by just for fun.
Uneducated divers have been known to sit on, kick or break off chunks of reef as they pass by.

Could Scuba Diving be Banned?

Is a worldwide ban on diving the best way to save our corals, and is this even an option?

Probably not. Although the industry tends to be secretive about the amount of money made per year off of diving, it is a very popular part of travel and vacations located near clear water.

Plus, it can be a life-changing part of a trip, teaching about the local sea life and enriching the experience of tropical life. Some people even call it a must-have spiritual experience.

Instead of attempting to ban scuba diving, it seems as if the answer may have to do with education.

There are large benefits to educating divers about the destruction of the coral reefs and how to handle themselves properly while diving.

Without education, divers typically touch the reef 10 to 12 times per dive. But after they’ve received instruction, they touch fewer than two times per dive.

Damaged coral in Cozumel, Mexico by emmiegrn.
60% world’s coral reefs are predicted to have been destroyed by the year 2020.

How to Save the Reefs

There are other ways to help conserve coral reefs, whether you are a diver yourself, or you are simply a concerned citizen who wants to help pressure the industry to make changes.

Some of these options include:

1. Mandate that every diver take a diver’s education course which outlines how to protect the corals.
2. Develop more marine reserves.
3. Prohibit anchoring in or near reef areas.
4. Charge fees for diving in marine parks that would go toward their upkeep.
5. Penalize diving companies when coral reef degradation increases in the areas where they dive the most.

Will the conservation techniques of divers have a large enough impact on the reefs?

Changing the way scuba diving is currently conducted is imperative. Yet what may cause the complete demise of the breathtaking coral reefs is what we are doing here on land.

Beautiful cup coral by divemasterking2000
Are greenhouse gases to blame for the destruction of the world’s reefs.

The Greenhouse Effect

Some scientists believe that the large majority of damage to the coral reefs comes from global warming.

In a recent NPR report, scientists said that the oceans are literally choking on greenhouse gases. The fact is, oceans all over the world are becoming more acidic and this keeps coral reefs from flourishing.

That means that what we do on land, on a daily basis and in our travels, may matter more than diving.

Using public transportation, riding bikes, and car-pooling as much as possible after you’ve arrived to a destination are some ways you can help cut down on emissions while traveling.

What can I do to help save the world’s coral?

For more information on conservation programs and to stay updated on the latest projects to protect our coral reefs, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program site.

Do you think scuba diving should be banned? Post up your comments and let us know!

Striking marine life in Malaysia by Travelling Runes
A ban on scuba diving would keep treasures like these hidden far beneath the sea.

Main image: Coral reefs of Bali by Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten.

23 thoughts on “Why Scuba Diving Could Soon Become Extinct”

  1. No i dont think diving should be banned i’m a diver and i love it and yes divers should be more carefull arounf the reefs and respect the life that lives there like they would want some one to respect there home and stuff.

  2. Perhaps limiting the time and number of divers, along with increased education, as we do in other endangered areas. For instance, the number of raft trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is so strictly limited that it can take years to get on one. That makes you realize the need for care.

  3. As a scuba diver who is obsessed with the sport I can say that the I care MORE about these issues because I am able to see them for myself. If we discourage visiting the part of our world that is beneath the waves, we discourage long term stewardship of these resources.
    Educate and ENCOURAGE visits, it may just turn the tide.

  4. Diving in some of these special locations is the lifeblood of quite a number of people and the area in general, so bans strike me as fairly impractical. Education, decent accrediting of dive companies in the area and decent stewardship will be far more effective. Prohibition rarely works anyway.

  5. Diving as i can guess will not be banned! But the Divers must take extra care around reefs and and can also respect their home and stuff. My personal experience of diving has always been good and I enjoy diving.

  6. Thanks for all your comments! I agree with Vera that limiting scuba diving, especially in places that are severely damaged at this point, is an important part of conservation. As with everything, this is about balance.

  7. Would you please help me locate the report from Marine Research Center, I could not find it on their web site, you refere to it in this paragraph “studies conducted by scientists from the Marine Research Center show definitive links between areas frequented by divers having more damage to their coral reefs than non-dived areas close by”. A scientific objective view wuould be more helpfull to educate all divers.

  8. I don’t quite agree with this unless statistically proven otherwise.
    World’s reefs are damaged by extensive development which involves large barge coming in coral areas. illegal marine activities, illegal fishing significantly destroy marine lives. Those are the big tikcet items that should be addressed first. to blame it on diving might not be quite right unless as all divers i’ve known are very well educated and trained with ‘no touching policy’. i felt this is almost like banning visit/trekking to forest reserve to avoid extinction while illegall logging and deforestation is rife.
    My advise: master your Buoyancy:)

  9. I have personally seen damage done by divers in one of the most pristine reefs in the Philippines. Having spent the last several weeks on a coral reef conservation project there, I was horrified.
    Reality is that, the guilty divers, who broke Sea Fans off vertical walls and whole sections of stag horn coral, were completely oblivious to what they were doing. Mainly because they were too busy trying to get that perfect picture.
    My recommendation would be that Camera toting divers, need to pass screening exams on buoyancy and fin control before they are let loose on our fragile reefs.

  10. Sad news. I am yet to experience diving, but when I do I will make sure i am careful and considerate to the surrounding. I agree that education and explaining that its a very fragile environment would help

  11. Hi all,

    Yes, we all have seen some disasters underwater, most of the times by inexperienced divers trying to get to close to some coral-reef, however, I totally agree with Hazwan, and there are biggest enemies of the underwater life. I do believe that divers, we are big protectors of nature and bringing knowledge about what is in the sea and how is being damage is one of the most important things that we can do.

  12. I recall doing a dive, years ago, soon after getting my certification. I was finning furiously, trying to maintain my neutral buoyancy, but I could feel my fins scrape the corals below. Later when I looked down, I noticed the sea bed was littered with a blanket of broken coral branches from the countless of newbies before me.

    While it’s true that divers wreak some damage to the coral reefs, inadvertent and otherwise, I doubt that a scuba diving ban is the answer. I’m sure that for every square foot of coral that’s damaged by a diver, dozens of square foot of corals are saved by divers who have taken a keen interest in conservation as a direct result of being able to visit the underwater world.

    Furthermore, in addition to enhanced education efforts here around Tioman, as well as stricter rules and a RM5 conservation tax, I’ve also noticed that resort boats no longer anchor willy-nilly but use moorings that have been put in place. All of these measures will surely improve the situation.

    In other words, the tide has turned. Hopefully, we can make a difference in the macro situation too: pollution, global weather changes, bleaching etc.

  13. How about banning commercial fishing. That does far more harm to the ocean that any scuba diving does. Our oceans are dying and the people who dove can see it happening first hand and report it back to everyone else with pictures and video evidence that can not be argued with. Diving does more good than harm. There are always going to be some idiots out there diving unfortunately, but for the most part I think anyone who dives and spends any amount of time under the surface comes back with much greater appreciation for what we have to lose there and will work much more diligently to try to help save it rather than destroy it.

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