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Avoiding Damaging Reefs

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#1 DS256



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Posted 15 June 2016 - 08:51 AM

I heard that some jurisdictions are closing off dive sites because of coral bleaching. One justification is "High tourist numbers produce problems such as litter and food waste, as well as gasoline from tour boats leaching into waters". There is also references to direct diver impact "Holding and fin contacts were the most common potentially damaging behaviors of divers, particularly those with cameras or gloves. Guides identified natural impacts (63% of respondents) and divers (34% of respondents) as the primary causes of damage to coral." which has led some other groups to suggest restricting or closing dive sites to allow for recovery.


So, my question is, as a community, are we doing enough to promote safe diving with respect to the reef while taking pictures?


I know myself I've abandoned shots because I felt I could not take the picture without coming in contact with the reef. However, I think most of us have found ourselves in situations we did not expect and too close or in contact with the reef unexpectedly. This brings up mitigating tactics that I have not really seen expressed before. It all has to do with experience and remembering training but I fear it's not reinforced enough outside of "Don't touch anything"


Below are some guidelines I've thought of. Looking for others ideas in particular, when you find yourself in a compromised situation, how to safely get out of it without damaging the reef.



  • Take and practice the PADI Peak Buoyancy course
  • Do not touch anything in the water (I say this because some divers think it's ok to pet turtles)
  • As part of the pre-dive buddy planning
    • Identify how you will help each other if it appears you are coming in contact with the reef. Special signal, special tap.
    • Check to make that each of you do not have anything hanging that could brush against the reef.
  • If you know you will be getting close to the reef, consider purchasing a diving stick to hold yourself away from the coral. Do not use gloves.
  • If you are taking pictures, plan how you can safely get into position to take the picture with touching anything. Leave room for error and unexpected movement in the water. If you can't do it safely, abandon the shot. There will be others.
  • If you find yourself in contact with the reef, or about to, stop, do not move, think.
    • If you are in the open, fill your lungs with air to try and float out of the problem.
    • If you are under an overhang, and in contact on the shelf above you, exhale your lungs to sink away.
    • If you need to back out of where you are, try and look behind you to plan your exit. 

Edited by DS256, 15 June 2016 - 08:52 AM.

#2 Glasseye Snapper

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Posted 15 June 2016 - 05:08 PM

I personally strive for zero damage, while accepting that some damage is implicit even if only by increasing economic development near shore.


The closer you want to get to the reef the better your buoyancy has to be. So either keep a distance or perfect your buoyancy, although not necessary by PADI or other course.


Do not touch any LIVING thing underwater. One or two fingers placed on a carefully selected piece of dead coral just to stabilize, no force, is much better than jojoing and kicking your fins to stay in place. You could do this equally well with gloves and the whole no-gloves rule is imho just because people expect you to be more careful without them. If you ever see parrotfish scraping the corals you also realize that if corals could not handle any mechanical contact they would have long been extinct (not an excuse to be careless, just some perspective).

I don't like diving sticks, assuming you mean the metal pins, as you don't get any tactile feedback and you create a point-pressure unlike a finger with or without glove.


Buddy signals to help each other out of a tricky position sound complicated to me. You really should not get into such situations in the first place.


Tucking away any dangling pieces of equipment is a good point as are most of the others. In the rare cases that I do touch the reef it is virtually always my fin tips. Retracting your legs while stopping finning and using your hands and/or lungs to move away from contact works well.


I also make an effort not to kick up a dust storm when swimming close to sand substrate, but I have no problem touching or even lying on the bottom after ensuring it is "clean sand".



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#3 flavitie



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Posted 16 June 2016 - 02:13 PM

I think that uw photografers in general, while of course there are exceptions, are more aware of how to dive correctly in order to avoid damages to marine life and have on average a correct buoyancy control.

Perhaps diving instructors and diving guides have the hardest task in teaching new and occasional divers how to interact and how to move underwater... 

#4 DS256



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Posted 20 June 2016 - 04:56 PM

Thanks for the feedback and comments. Makes me feel some of the comments and approaches the the articles are overkill.