If you want to have a good dive, become your dive guide’s best buddy. Whether it’s your first time at the site or you’ve dived it 20 times before, it’s a guarantee that your local dive guide still knows it better. An experienced dive guide knows where the most obscure stonefish like to hang out. Guides know how the reef changes depending on light, depth and current. And they know where they’re going to take you before you even gear up.
In a recent interview with five Filipino dive guides, we found out that when planning a dive route, some of the most important considerations are their guests’ buoyancy and attitude towards conservation. Gino, King, Lito, Rigie and Tata have collectively guided thousands of divers in the Philippines. Their careers depend on the health of these precious coral reefs, as so they are passionate ambassadors for the Green Fins approach to sustainable diving and snorkeling. Identified as local environmental champions, they’ve been trained to help spread environmental messages to their fellow guides, as well as tourists.
“Some corals can take up to 20 months to grow 1 cm (less than ½-inch),” says Lito from Puerto Galera. “If one customer kicks one small coral colony off the reef, that could be over 30 years of damage.” Guides want to help every guest have the best possible dives, but they have a responsibility to their children and their communities to protect these vital natural resources from damaging diver behavior.
If you want to be your dive guide’s best buddy and make sure that you don’t miss seeing that scorpionfish on your next dive, follow these simple tips, straight from the dive guides themselves.
Perfect your buoyancy.
Good neutral buoyancy isn’t an accident. You’ve got to work on it, and it doesn’t automatically improve as you log more dives.
“Number of dives is nowhere near as important as good buoyancy when identifying a good diver,” says Tata from Moalboal. “You need to work on good buoyancy to perfect it. Hands still. Body horizontal. Fins up. If you really work for it, and you have a good instructor or guide, you can achieve it in just a few dives.”
Achieving neutral buoyancy also means you’ll be able to see more of the reef. Tata loves helping customers improve their buoyancy so that he can show them the amazing macro life he loves without risking a collision with the coral.
Take the right weight.
“The secret to perfect buoyancy is perfect weighting,” says King from Panglao.
“It’s important to check that you’re taking the right amount of weight at the beginning of every dive trip. You may be using different equipment, wearing a different wetsuit or taking a different camera. The slightest change can make a big difference to your buoyancy underwater.” King commonly sees divers using too much weight. “When guests take too much weight on a dive, they have to constantly kick to stay off the bottom. This is the biggest threat I see to coral reefs and I see it every day. Guests kick the coral and cover it in sand while fighting to stay up.”
If King sees one of his guests struggling with this problem, he helps them immediately by slightly inflating their BCD during the dive and advising them to take less weight on their next dive. “Guests who get their weight right are able to make their air last an extra 10 minutes,” he says.
Do not touch, take or tease anything.
“The sea is perfect just as it is,” Lito says.
“Everyone privileged enough to enter it should want to protect it. When people touch marine life, corals, or fish, they can stress and even kill them. Touching things can spread disease. Getting too close or chasing animals can stop them feeding or make them more vulnerable to predators. Taking one shell could upset an entire ecosystem.”
A crown of thorns starfish outbreak, for example, can decimate an entire reef. Removing its only predator, a Triton’s trumpet sea snail, could directly lead to reef destruction. Leave what you see underwater in its place and help that reef stay healthy for years to come.
Listen to your dive guide.
Dive guides are there to help you. Listen to their briefings and advice for a safer, more enjoyable dive.
“Good boat and pre-dive briefings help educate guests on best underwater practices,” says Gino from Malapascua. “Sometimes people don’t know that touching coral can hurt it but if you tell them, they understand why they shouldn’t do it. My biggest problems occur when people don’t listen. Photographers, in particular, are either the most fun or the most stressful customers to dive with.”
Gino is impressed by underwater photographers who have perfect buoyancy and do not touch the reef. He loves showing them the most obscure and interesting marine life. He’s also happy to help divers with less-than-perfect buoyancy take photos by holding them off the reef so they don’t forget about their fins. “My most stressful dives are those where photographers lie directly across the reef, causing hundreds of years of damage, and ignore my requests to come up off the reef,” he says.
Talk to your dive guide.
All of the dive guides agreed that the best part of their jobs is meeting people from around the world who share their passion for diving. Rigie from Panglao loves it when guests ask about the local Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), why his boat crew uses moorings instead of anchors, or why that shrimp was living in a hole with that fish. The more you talk to your dive guide, the more you’ll learn about what you just saw. Suddenly you’ll realize that seeing that thresher shark hunting was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Suddenly you’ll know that dropping an anchor on the reef is disastrous.
“I love sharing knowledge about marine life with my guests,” says Rigie. “Diving without knowledge of marine life is no life. A lot of the time my guests even educate me, sharing stories about how different animals interact all over the world.”
Rigie also loves it when his guests give him feedback about their dives. “If I know someone struggles with their buoyancy, I am prepared and can take the extra time to help them perfect it. Then we both have a much better dive.”
Follow these simple guidelines to become your dive guide’s best buddy and both you and divers to come will see the best that their local reefs have to offer.
By guest writer Charlie Wiseman, Project Coordinator, The Reef-World Foundation
Green Fins is an initiative of the UNEP and The Reef-World Foundation, providing the only internationally recognized environmental standards for the diving and snorkeling tourism industry. Dive and snorkel operators sign up for free membership and receive annual environmental assessments and training to reduce their impacts. You can find Green Fins members in Malaysia, the Maldives, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.