The environment is in crisis. Animals are facing extinction; massive deforestation is taking place; and polar ice caps are melting due to global warming. As divers, we’ve long known that our oceans are in trouble as well. And for a healthy planet, we must have healthy oceans. The dive industry’s role in promoting marine conservation will only grow as the problem becomes more acute.
As a dive instructor, you exert enormous influence over your students and other divers you meet. Most instructors are already passionate marine-conservation advocates, but may lack the time to participate in or organize conservation projects. Here, we’ll offer some easy tips to help you become a more eco-friendly dive instructor.
Lead by example
The best instructors are great leaders. Most students will follow your advice and copy everything that you show or tell them. Use your influence and model conservation practices for your students, both during dives and in your daily life.
Teach your courses with reusable bags to carry your class materials. Don’t use plastic bottles and don’t eat lots of items that are wrapped in plastic. Don’t eat seafood. Use environmentally friendly sunscreen and always pick up trash from the beach or on the dive site during dives. If you teach your course as though each student has a personal responsibility for the environment, and model the behavior yourself, it’s highly likely that they’ll take that ethos into the rest of their diving career.
Avoid single-use plastic
Almost unfathomable quantities of marine debris clog our oceans, and single-use plastic is largely responsible. While beach and reef clean-ups are helpful, reducing your plastic use drastically in the first place is even better.
As an instructor, you can not only reduce your own plastic usage, but also try to convince your students to reduce theirs as well, both during and after the course. Helping them understand that choices they make on land can negatively affect the sea can make all the difference. In many cases, they’ll inspire new people they meet to do the same, which creates a snowball effect – all starting with you, the responsible dive instructor.
Spend 10 or 15 minutes during your course orientation explaining the effects of plastic on the oceans. Offer students some alternatives, such as reusable water bottles, metal straws and reusable shopping bags. Tell them — or better yet, show them — how plastic straws, bags and bottles can devastate the marine life that eats them or becomes entangled.
Even if the plastic does not enter the ocean, it will most likely be burned in developing countries and on small islands. This too is extremely toxic for the environment and human health. Aside from conservation reasons, avoiding plastic means we also get nicer beaches and roads with less garbage strewn around. Advising students to tackle the problem at its source by not using plastics also eliminates the need to clean it all up.
Organize beach and reef clean-ups
Even with efforts to curb plastic use, beach and reef clean-ups are also a vital component of becoming an eco-friendly dive instructor. Because teaching diving can be quite mentally and physically exhausting, many eco-conscious instructors may struggle to organize clean-ups.
The solution is to work together, with your colleagues, other dive centers, and dive-training organizations. Ask your colleagues to pick one day a week to organize a clean-up. This way you only need four leaders and you can get out there four times a month. Your customers will love it and you’ll only need to participate once a month — although you may find you want to help out more.
You can also work with other dive centers to get even more power on a single conservation event. Reach out across training organizations — we all benefit from a cleaner ocean.
Integrate marine conservation with your teaching
Focus more on conservation in your classroom presentations by relating knowledge-review questions to eco-friendly situations. For example, if you’re explaining a knowledge-review question to your students about marine life, include information about marine debris, overfishing and coral bleaching. This will not only teach your students about the marine life but also that it’s our job to protect it if we want enjoy future dives. This way you don’t have to add a separate eco lecture in your course because you’ve smoothly integrated this knowledge into the diving course theory.
You can also use your dive briefings to explain how to practice newly taught skills. Remind students not to touch corals by focusing on buoyancy. Explain how to interact with marine life like manta rays and whale sharks, and ask them to pick up any marine debris they see. This is a big part of our PADI IDC course.
Reduce or eliminate seafood consumption
Although seafood is a big attraction for tourists on vacation in an Oceanside destination, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the ocean cannot sustain our appetite for its citizens. We are drastically overfishing our oceans. Sustainability is falling fast, especially because of bycatch. Even if a fishing boat is hunting a sustainable fish, it is also unwittingly catching other aquatic life. Shrimp fishermen, for example, catch loads of other tropical marine life such as triggerfish, angelfish, trevally, barracuda, turtles and more. That’s not to mention the environmental damage wreaked by large trawlers.
Again, you have a lot of influence as an instructor. Cut seafood out of your diet and encourage your students to do the same. Show them videos of the damage being wrought on the oceans by overfishing. Unfortunately many dive instructors not only eat seafood on a daily basis but also invite their students to go to seafood restaurants with them. Individual choices matter, so instead of perpetuating this unsustainable lifestyle, be a part of the solution instead of the problem. Try to explain to your students in a culturally-sensitive and non-judgmental way why they should their seafood consumption at the very least.
Use social media as a powerful conservation tool
Inspiring others to, in turn, inspire even more people, is one of the best ways to make a difference — even indirectly. You can spearhead lots of great eco-projects, but if nobody ever knows about them, they’ll have a much smaller impact. Spread the word about your eco-activities and inspire others to do the same. It’s easier than ever to use platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, which can quickly spread awareness worldwide. So even if you’re just doing a local clean-up, share it on Facebook. It may inspire another person to do the same or even better.
If you do share eco-related posts, try to keep them positive, as you’ll generate far more likes and interest than a negative post. For example, don’t post a picture of a dirty reef and name and shame. Instead, post a picture of you and your students cleaning that reef or beach and watch the likes and shares happen like magic.
Creating lasting effects
Teaching in an environmentally friendly manner is not only good for the environment, it’s good for the dive shop. It keeps the local waters cleaner, which in turn creates happier, more engaged divers. And teaching this way can have lasting effects on new divers as well. I have team-taught with many different instructors in my career and seen the massive difference in the students when they learned from an eco-friendly dive instructor versus a regular dive instructor.
At Sairee Cottage Diving on Koh Tao, we focus a huge part of our diving instructor IDC course on marine conservation and how teaching from an eco-friendly perspective makes you a much better instructor. For more information on the course or diving with Sairee Cottage Diving, visit the website here.
Guest author Marcel van den Berg is a PADI Platinum Course Director at Sairee Cottage Diving 5-Star IDC Center, Koh Tao, Thailand