Divers generally have a great appreciation for the marine world and its inhabitants, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that those who enter that environment do so with appropriate respect, just as we respect each other’s homes when we visit. After all, we are guests in the marine environment — and uninvited guests, at that. As diving parents, we know that marine conservation for kids becomes even more important. We can teach our children about the marine environment and how to protect it long before they’re old enough to dive.
Marine conservation for kids
Unfortunately, one of the first, and most important lessons, that children learn is that people are the biggest problem when it comes to protecting our marine world. From litter and pesticides washing into the seas, to drilling for oil that leaks into the oceans, to introduction of non-native species, we have been abysmal stewards of our oceans. While all of these seem like huge problems, which a child will likely feel helpless to affect, it’s appropriate to start small and teach them what they can do. Make sure they dispose of trash properly. Model good behavior by drinking from reusable water bottles, and limit your family’s fish consumption, if you eat seafood at all. Little things can make a big difference over time. As children become old enough to dive, there are many more ways for them to support marine conservation.
We are in someone else’s home
I have always taken the approach to the marine environment that I am in those creatures’ living rooms. And I have arrived uninvited. So, when we teach our children about marine conservation, we relate it to going to a friend’s house. Kids are expected to be on their best behavior on a visit, to use their manners and clean up after themselves. The same holds true underwater.
When diving or snorkeling, children should be polite to the sea creatures, use their best manners, and look for opportunities to leave the environment in as good or better shape than they found it. This means that we observe the animals and the coral, but we keep our hands to ourselves. We should not disturb the animals or try to get them to move so we can get a better view or picture. Finally, when we see trash, we pick it up, unless trying to collect it could damage coral or animal life even more.
Be aware of our surroundings
I remember watching a woman on a dive trip who wanted to get a picture of anything the divemaster showed us. She focused only on where her camera was and where the object of her photo was. At one point she lunged in to get the picture, spread her entire body over a fan coral, and then laid down on it. It was horrifying to watch. Some of the divers in the group began to physically move this woman off of and away from things — my husband picked up her fin tips at one point because she was kicking some of the coral formations as she adjusted to get the photo she wanted.
We have told our children this story to help them understand the need to be aware of their surroundings, their bodies and their equipment. We wouldn’t necessarily want children to physically confront another diver who may be harming marine life, so it’s wise to help your children think through how to manage the situation if they see divers behaving badly. Children can take a proactive role by letting you or the divemaster know, in private, that one of the divers needs some coaching on reef etiquette. Children will feel more invested in marine health themselves if they’re encouraged to take control of a bad situation and affect change.
Food webs and food chains
Children study food webs and food chains in school right around the same time they can start diving. Use this newfound knowledge as a teaching tool on how these systems work in the marine environment. From hearing parrotfish munching on coral to seeing big fish feeding on krill, learning about the marine food chain is a great way to demonstrate the importance of even the smallest organism.
As we rely on our children to become the new guardians of our planet, we must educate them early and often about how they can help us reverse course on the damage that we’ve already done, particularly to the marine environment. The earlier they learn, the more ingrained good habits will become, and the higher the likelihood that they can help educate their peers. Marine conservation for kids means not only educating children today, but ensuring the survival of our oceans tomorrow.