Every Diver Should Be An Aware Diver


Although taught during open water courses, I find that many divers do not dive in a way that protects the environment.  No matter what level of certification or how much experience you may have, it is imperative that all divers respect the marine environment and strive to not damage it during their short underwater visits.

All to often I see the damaging effects of poor diving and poor boating practices: broken coral from placement of fins; reef destroyed by dragging anchor chains, broken pieces of coral from divers grabbing coral stems to balance themselves.  I could list many, but you know what I am getting at. 

Good diving practices are paramount to safe diving and marine conservation.  Why touch something?  The vary act of touching an object may damage the animal or plant that you are looking at, and it could cause injury to you!  Look and watch, BUT do not touch.   Do not use those long metal rods that are becoming common place with diver masters and reef guides to herd and touch marine life.  Touching kills and maims the animal/plant you are interested in.  Underwater photography is a very fulfilling activity, but when photographers splay themselves all over the reef breaking corals and disturbing marine life to get that "great picture", you begin to wonder if all they care about is the picture.

Watch where your fin placement  is and keep your legs and fins off the bottom.  Swim above the corals and not amongst them.  Ensure you are not over-weighted and maintain neutral buoyancy at all times during your dive.  Make sure you keep your arm movements to a minium and watch the placement of your hands.  Gloves are not worn to stop coral cuts from handling coral!  If you can see the bottom when you anchor your dive boat, ensure you drop the anchor and chain away from the reef, on the sand, and let the boat drift over the reef. 

Finally, spread the word!  Tell other divers who are not diving well why it is important that they improve their diving skills - better still help them to improve their skills by showing them how to dive properly - by example.

Big Fish Decline - Where Are They Going?

I have been diving regularly for over twenty years and remember in the mid 1980's huge schools of pelagic fish such as jack and barracuda several fish deep.  In areas such as the Solomon Islands and Papua Nui Guinea these schools of fish including many sharks were seen on almost every dive.  After a while you almost took them for granted.  My more recent trips in 2002, 2003 and 2004 have revealed a disturbing trend that is been witnessed world wide - the large schools of fish are becoming hard to find let alone dive with.  My 2004 dive trip to PNG revealed very few schools of large fish or medium sized fish.  Why is this happening?  Is it global climate and weather change?  or perhaps overfishing?  I believe it maybe a combination, but overfishing I think is the main culprit.  In PNG and the Solomon Islands there are large mother boats with their smaller catch boats fishing for large fish every day of the year - these are the long liners.   Long liners don't care what they do to the environment.  Their sole goal is to make as much money possible in the shortest possible time period.  In my mind, anyone who loves the ocean has to view the long liners as their enemy.

Every species has a threshold that when reached will cause that species to decline in number rapidly.

Younger Generations Appear to Fail To Take Notice

What I fear is that the younger generations have no idea what an area used to be like.  They "oohh" and "aahh" at the reef they dive, but if only they knew what it looked like before they were born!  I have more than once dived a reef that was once vibrant with lots of life, but is now barren. 

The first change is a decline in the big fish life followed by the medium sized fish.  The reef nearly always harbours smaller fish populations and other cryptic marine species - unless the fish aquarium catchers have dived it removing these inhabitants as well!

Shark Decline Caused By Eating Too Much Soup

Once very common and observable on many dives, especially in the tropics were abundant shark species. Sharks are in decline worldwide and the main reason for this decline is human predation.  Direct predation on sharks has increased significantly in the last ten years and has been fuelled by the growing economies of South East Asia, especially China.  Sharks have long been associated with the Asian medicinal trade along with tiger bones, penis’s and bear hands.  Many Asian cultures use shark fins as a main ingredient in making shark fin soup.  Before the economic growth spurt in Asia, shark fin soup could only be afforded by the very wealthy, however, as the gap between middle-class and higher-class closes many Chinese people can now afford this soup. 

Demand for shark fin soup has spurred entrepreneurs to target shark species to provide the fins.  On average XXXX sharks are killed annually to supply this increasing demand.  Of major concern is that many of the shark fisheries are not managed and sharks of all species - small, large and juvenile are being slaughtered indiscriminately.  

Most of the sharks are captured in gill nets or caught by long liners, dragged into a boat to have their fins removed before being dumped back into the sea.  In many instances the sharks are still alive, but lacking fins cannot swim to maintain water across their gills to extract oxygen.  The result is that the shark dies of suffocation.  No other part of the shark is used.  


Commercial Operations

Commercial operations harvest (the politically correct term) sharks for the fish and chip industry.  Normally the shark species killed is the smooth gummy or dog shark, although the name differs depending upon which part of the world you live.  These sharks have traditionally supplied the fish and chip market with a inexpensive alternative to bony fish.  However, have you noticed that shark is becoming increasingly expensive to purchase compared to the price you used to pay in the 1980’s or earlier.  School sharks are being decimated by the commercial harvests and numbers of gummy shark species are falling quickly.

Unfortunately, as shark numbers decline, hunters have now targeted similar species such as stingrays devil rays and manta rays.  Shark nursery grounds are also targeted.

Indirect Predation on Sharks

Indirect predation on sharks occurs from shark gill nets, which are placed in front of many popular surfing and swimming beaches.  These nets are indiscriminate in what they capture, and often sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles perish from being entangled in the net.

Although game fisherman also target shark species as sportfish, this practice does not have a great impact on actual shark numbers, providing endangered species such as the Great White Shark and Grey Nurse Shark are not caught.

We Hunt Sharks – Sharks Do Not Hunt Us

The fallacy that sharks hunt humans is exactly that – a fallacy.  The truth is we hunt sharks and we’re very good at doping it.  Shark numbers and species diversity in all the World’s oceans have been severely reduced in the past ten years.

Sharks are Vital to the Ocean’s Ecosystem & to Local Tourism

Ironically, sharks are more important to us alive than dead.  Simply put, sharks are responsible for hunting and removing the sick and infirm within the marine realm.  They aid in keeping our oceans clean by feasting on dead and ding marine life.

Sharks are also a valuable tourist asset to many developing and first world nations.  Sharks are a draw card tp SCUBA divers worldwide who are happy to pay for the privilege of diving with certain shark species and photographing them.  Local economies make large sums of revenue from the kick on effect of travelling divers (accommodation, food, transport, etc).  As an example, in near Kavieng off New Britain in Papua New Guinea there is a location renown to divers worldwide for visiting silvertip sharks.  The silvertips would approach divers very closely in relatively shallow water.  The economy was boosted by the influx of divers to the area to dive with the sharks.  Unfortunately, an Indonesian shark-finer was told of the area (he probably paid a national a small one off fee for the information) and killed 95% of the sharks in the area.  Today, the sharks are no longer here and those that are have become very skittish of approaching divers.  The local industry collapsed and the revenue from the shark asset became negligible overnight!

So what can YOU do about it?

Lobby your local Member of Parliament to stop shark fishing in your country.

Lobby your local Member of Parliament to remove all shark nets from beaches in your country.

Lobby to stop international hunting of sharks for the shark fin industry (based in China).

STOP eating any species of shark – refrain from shark species when you buy fish & chips.

NEVER eat shark fin soup.

SUPPORT all efforts to conserve sharks in the wild.

EDUCATE yourself and others.  Search the Internet and learn the reasons for shark decline before it is too late!

Reef Bombing - THIS MUST STOP NOW...............

Another more incestuous practice I have observed that seems to be on the increase, especially in the Pacific Islands is the practice of dynamite fishing for reef fish.  Explosives are used to stun and kill fish.  Unfortunately explosives target all species of marine life and not just the target species.  The reef infrastructure is also damaged; often beyond repair.

I recently dived Watom Island off Rabaul in Papua Nui Guinea.  The island was amazing; white sandy beaches, secluded bays and inlets, primary rainforest that had not been logged and deep crystal clear water.  One thing was missing - fish of almost any size.  Upon close inspection of several reefs in the area, it was discovered that the underlying reef infrastructure (corals) had been severely damaged by underwater blasting.  Bubbles from demand valves actually dislodged pieces of coral.  Thick coral stems, which appeared to be strong, fell apart when touched.  With the reef framework destroyed, ecosystem collapse soon followed in this part of the reef.  Reef bombing appears to be on the increase and must be stopped immediately!  Indigenous peoples in the 21st century are relying more on tourism for their day to day survival and a vibrant intact coral reef will provide income for generations to come, where explosive fishing will only provide a quick short term meal.  As divers we are the ones that we predominately be affected - PROTECT OUR RESOURCE.

Why are the indigenous people reef bombing? 

In the 1980's reef bombing was very small scale and only done by a few "cowboys".  Today reef bombing is increasing because the fish stocks are no longer freely available and as plentiful as they once were.  Long liners, factory ships, international markets and a strong desire by the first world for fish products is rapidly causing large edible fish to become a rarity in some pacific nations.  The indigenous people feel they have no choice but to reef bomb to provide food for their family.

What is the answer?  EDUCATION.  If every visiting diver mentioned the problems of reef bombing, then perhaps there maybe a decline in the activity.  If you feel strongly about reef bombing, write a letter to the Government of the country telling them that you will not come back to dive if the reef is no longer vibrant with corals, fish and other species.

On a recent dive trip I was shocked to hear several divers say that it was OK to reef bomb as the bombers were only feeding their families!  They then went on to say that it was only a small part of the reef so the damage will be slight.  This maybe so - initially, but the bombers are indiscriminate as to where they bomb.  Eventually, the reef infrastructure (corals) will be gone and ecosystem collapse will occur.  Once bombing starts in an area it will not decline as others learn to reap the very short term rewards of bombing.

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