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Conservation and ecology of safe and sustainable scuba diving

Conservation and Ecology: What is diving sustainably and how do you do it?

As public awareness of ocean pollution increases exponentially, the impact that humanity has had on this part of the planet is becoming ever starker. As divers, we see it up close and personal, but even we are shocked and horrified at some of the viral video evidence of plastic overspill throughout the planet’s oceans.
Your actions out of the water affect life under the water. We all know that. Our reliance on disposable plastics that do not biodegrade has reached a tipping point – and many of us are making positive changes in our day to day lives. But how about when you are directly in the waters that you seek to protect? Now is the time to think again about sustainable diving: what it actually means and how you can best achieve it. Most essentially, how you can play your part in sustaining this most precious part of the world.

Key Questions

What is the Problem?

In addition to the influx of debris into the planet’s oceans, the underwater world is affected by other aspects of modern humanity. Sea temperatures are rising, unregulated hunting for food and tourism is unravelling the food chain and coral reefs are depleting. Whether you are just starting out or you are a regular diver, the direct contact you have with this environment makes a difference.

What is Sustainability?

We have come to recognize the term sustainability to be synonymous with the concept of sustainable development. This is the process of change designed to achieve human development goals whilst sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the resources upon which the economy and society depend.

What is Conservation?

Natural conservation is commonly recognized as referring to the management of biodiversity and the protection of species’. Although they are different concepts, it’s important to understand how conservation and sustainability intertwine. Diving conservation encompasses efforts to preserve and protect the environment in which divers interact. With each dive, you will be required to purchase a conservation permit. The income from these licenses goes to aid the maintenance of the local undersea ecosystem.

What is Diving Sustainably?

Sustainability in diving is not simply about benefiting and sustaining the human experience. There are elements of conservation in there too, which makes this different from the core concept of sustainability. To act in a sustainable way as a diver, you should have greater issues of conservation in mind.

The Importance of Experience

Starting Out

Often, direct damage caused by divers is down to inexperience. This is why it is key to source a good PADI Open Water Diver Course with plenty of instruction provided on helping you develop good buoyancy skills and role model behaviours as a diver. The rest comes with practice, and choosing your teacher is key. For more experienced divers with an interest in ocean conservation, check out our PADI Project AWARE Speciality Program.

General Mindset

A great mantra to remember for each dive is to leave only bubbles. So your presence under the water should not be evident either with the leaving of debris, or the damage of the habitat from contact with the coral reef.


If it’s been a while, it is always worth looking at a PADI Scuba Review course to make sure that you’re up to speed with current best practice. Or if you want to take your diving somewhere different, the PADI Adventure Diving course can take you safely and sustainably into more unchartered waters.

Steps to Take


Ensure that you research your tour operator when you book a dive or snorkeling excursion. At whatever level you are, your dive instructor will often be instrumental in how low impact your dive is on the local habitat. We ensure that you purchase the legally required conservation permits prior to a dive with us and instruct in an ecologically sympathetic way.


As you schedule recreational dives around the globe, take a moment to think about the data (as well as litter!) that you can be collecting. You can report debris collected from the sea to Dive Against Debris. This is part of Project AWARE, who we work with to deliver a sustainability-focused dive program. This initiative will use the data collected to inform ecological policy across the world.


Even when you’re not diving, you can make a difference. If you choose to eat seafood, make responsible choices. Your decisions as a consumer can prioritize a reuse and don’t use outlook. Avoid single-use plastics – straws, cling film, plastic cups and the like. Although recycling is a great thing, minimal environmental impact is actually achieved by reusing wherever possible. Be inventive!

Day to Day

We’ve all heard of ploggers… no? Plogging is a pursuit that originated in Sweden whereby participants combine jogging with picking up litter. A similar revolution is now taking place in the diving world with initiatives to retrieve debris when you dive. Armed with a mesh bag, you can make a small difference with every dive you take. Check out the Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris campaign for a wealth of information.

Hot Topics…

Coral Reef Ecosystems

There’s a reason that shallow coral reefs are called the rainforests of the sea. Colourful and exotic, they are a sight that needs to be seen in the flesh. It’s tempting to touch but resist and take care; the briefest of handling can devastate a coral. Unintentional damage from kicking and wayward gear is also a very real problem. So consider the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Course to optimize your control. Realistically, though, it is probably your lifestyle out of the water that has more of an impact on coral reefs. Damage from rising sea temperatures and the release of contaminants or toxins into the environment are things that can only be changed by the adoption of sustainable lifestyle habits.

Shark Protection

Think of sharks and rays as spiders of the ocean. These top predators are given a similarly hard time. Like the spider scurrying around your house catching flies and midges, sharks maintain the populations of species’ within the ecosystem. Sharks and rays are popular creatures for divers to witness, so if you choose a dive to experience sharks, ensure you are choosing a locally-based and sustainable tour operator. Your support gives local economies an alternative to the unregulated fishing industry.

The essential fact that we must remember while diving, snorkeling or simply being in the ocean is humanity’s status as an interloper. No matter what your skill as a diver, you will always be a visitor to the sea, so remember your manners!

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