Conservation Awareness in the Dive Community

by Ben Chisholm


 Oceana divers 

Thousands of divers take to the world’s waters every year with different aspirations. Some want to relax, some want to escape, others to explore, and even others to dream. The beauty of our sport is this: diving offers unlimited rewards and pleasures to people from every background and profession imaginable. We all know what we enjoy the most; whether it is wrecks, sharks, deep dives, pristine shallow reefs… we connect with like-minded people and go. Creating communities that look out for one another, keeping each other up to date on issues, opportunities, dive stories, and dive news because we know it’s our passion.

In these communities, dive buddies become life long friends, local dive shops become as frequented and casual as local bars. Everyone shares the same sense of adventure, a drive to see the unseen, to explore a world that is known only by few, and a mystery to so many. And what is at the center of these communities, the one thing that relates all of us together…the ocean…the underwater world that many spend every vacation day of their life exploring. Without the ocean there is no sport, no colonies of coral reefs, no schools of hammerheads, and no magnificent dolphin or turtle encounters. Our livelihood depends on it and now it depends on us.

The condition of the world’s oceans is well known to us. We witness the decline of fish populations and the downward spiraling health of coral reefs with our own eyes. Where once were our favorite dive sites, now lie mediocre reef systems with sparse marine life. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find plush coral heads with flourishing, diverse marine life.

       
  Oculina Reef before bottom trawling 
 
           
   Oculina Reef after bottom trawling

As a diver and conservationist, this worries me. And it should worry any diver that has a passion for the ocean. It amazes me that with such a sense of community, divers haven’t focused more on conserving the ocean. This has captured the attention of Oceana, and inspired them to create a diver’s outreach program to help unify the divers and give them the opportunity to voice their concerns.

Oceana, a non-profit organization, campaigns to conserve, protect and restore the world’s oceans. Their teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers, and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals, and other sea life. And now they are reaching out to the millions of divers in the United States and around the world for support.

In the past couple of years, Oceana staff has attended dive shows and events around the country speaking with folks in the industry. The support they’ve encountered has been great and has encouraged Oceana to create a virtual dive community where members receive regular updates of current ocean
issues, activities, and action alerts for advocacy opportunities. With an open web forum, joining the dive community is a great way to keep in touch with dive buddies, express opinions on ocean related issues, and to get involved in protecting what we all know is so valuable, the ocean.

This new hands-on approach is being accompanied by an aggressive campaign to protect deep sea corals and other sensitive habitat off the Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oceana has been working with The South Atlantic and Gulf Fishery Management
Councils to implement plans to protect and restore these deep sea habitats by limiting the areas open to destructive bottom trawling; a fishing technique that plows the seafloor and destroys everything in its path.

One glance at a before and after shot of the affects of bottom trawling is enough to make most people concerned. To see an area covered with a thriving coral system that serves as habitat to hundreds of fish completely destroyed in a matter of seconds is chilling. Imagining the amount of habitat that is being destroyed everyday should motivate awareness of this very urgent issue. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is working on a proposed plan called the Fishery Ecosystem Plan. This plan has been in development for many years and Oceana is working to get the Council to approve and implement the plan. Action is needed before it is too late and ocean conservationists, divers, and fisherman alike suffer from the lack of fish habitat.

The goal is to get more divers into conservation that addresses these issues; this will benefit both divers and the ocean. However, another goal is to bring more conservationists into diving. Thousands of advocates of the sea have never explored the underwater world, but by partnering diving with conservation, they will have reason more than ever to go sign up for that first Open Water course. It’s a way of giving back to the dive industry by filling dive classrooms and charter boats with dedicated environmentally conscious people who have yet to get their feet wet.