Ocean lovers with a never-ending need for beautiful clear- blue waters and captivating deep-sea creatures can probably understand that terrible feeling of running into damaged eco-systems when taking a dive down below. For ocean-lovers who travel the world – diving on a coral reef is a truly special way to experience one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. It is no surprise then that this has become one of the driving forces behind many trips to exotic locations around the globe. Travelers that are trying to keep their upcoming scuba travels eco-conscious are probably already aware of the damage tourism can wreak on these delicate ecosystems. This doesn’t necessarily mean one should cross diving a reef off of the bucket list though. Instead- re-evaluating priorities and considering how to help these endangered habitats to survive can be the perfect sustainable alternative.
Most damage to coral reefs comes about as a lack of education. Inexperienced divers are less aware of their bodies and equipment in the water, and are more likely to walk or crawl on the reef, breaking or damaging the structure and disturbing animal life beneath. Before you head off on your trip, make sure your swimming technique and fin control is good enough that you can move through the water with as little disturbance as possible.
Read up on good reef-diving etiquette. People are often unaware of the problems which can arise for ecosystems as a result of tourists feeding the reef-dwelling animals and changing their natural behaviors. The principles are the same as any eco-event or holiday you might have been a part of: take out what you take in – especially rubbish, be conscientious, and think about the impact of your entire trip. Helping to save a coral reef is a noble way to spend your time, but if you’re flying halfway round the world to do it, your carbon footprint might argue otherwise, so consider offsetting your carbon emissions if you can’t stay local.
Volunteer conservation programs are a really great way to achieve your dream of diving on a coral reef, because you’re giving back and helping to preserve the environment for the future. When choosing a program, make sure that they really are an environmentally friendly and responsible operation: there are any number of companies trying to cash in on the boom in eco-tourism, proclaiming themselves ‘green’ without any real backup. Look at how the company is dealing with the environmental impact of their entire operation. Are they using renewable energy? What is their waste management and recycling policy like? This can tell you a lot about their real motivations.
If you haven’t got the time to commit to the longer stays most voluntary programs require, you can still go on a paid trip or vacation, just apply the same principles and ask the same questions. Is the company responsible? What are they doing to educate divers about interacting with the reef? How are they offsetting and mitigating the environmental impacts of the tours they are offering? Sustainable tourism options might be more expensive because of this, but they take account of the true cost of the impact humans are having on these natural wonders.
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