Is Scuba Diving Bad for the Environment? 

Is Scuba Diving Bad for the Environment? 

The scuba dive industry is responsible for some damage to the marine environment, but done ethically, it can prove to benefit the marine environment. Eco-tourism, education and divers sharing the wonders of the ocean with non-divers all have a positive impact on the marine environment.

Scuba diving is probably the only sport that directly connects you with nature and marine life. We are truly spoiled when we become immersed and explore this environment.

As scuba divers, we care a lot about the marine environment, but does our extremely fun hobby have negative impacts on the environment?

That is what we are going to cover today because protecting this environment is exceptionally important!

Scuba diving is a billion-dollar industry worldwide with over 3 million divers flocking to scuba diving hot spots to take the plunge. This number is continuously growing, especially in tropical countries – I mean, who wouldn’t want to dive in “paradise”?

But the diving industry comes with some challenges…environmental degradation and climate change which threatens this booming industry. 

Natural disasters and climate change are affecting many diving destinations worldwide, just look at the many coral bleaching events that have occurred in the Great Barrier Reef, in Australia

Marine ecosystems are extremely fragile and vulnerable to environmental changes with other issues from humans exploiting the ocean such as overfishing, but the question we want to ask today is:

“Are we scuba divers also bad for the environment, and if so, what can we do to protect this vital ecosystem?”

Do Divers Have a Negative Impact On the Marine Environment?

Divers and the dive industry, unfortunately, do have a negative effect on the marine environment. The extent of this damage depends on how much the diver or dive school respect the ocean. Education and eco-friendly diving will help reduce such damage.

A question that almost all of us ask ourselves…

Scuba divers may not see diving as harming the marine environment as it is very small and occurs over long periods, so the impact is relatively low. 

However, some divers simply do not respect the ocean, with obvious signs of direct damage in corals where people think it is ‘ok’ to carve their names in the reef – this is NOT ok.

How would you like someone to get a knife and carve their name in your skin? 

Indirect damage is also seen through pollution and coastal development. 

As our population grows, the more infrastructure we build. Because of this, we are building closer and closer to the coastline. Coastal development has many negative impacts on marine life, especially sea turtles that become disorientated during the nesting season from building lights. 

Pollution is a very broad subject, but the bad news for us divers is that we contribute to both boat pollution and dive pollution. 

Boat Pollution/Damage

This one is difficult to avoid, as sometimes, the only way to reach dive sites is by boat. But, the boats pollute the water with oil, gas and other contaminants that harm the marine environment, damaging the fragile coral ecosystem, particularly coral reefs. 

Many dive operators educate their captains on this issue and are doing the best they can to reduce the impacts, however, some continue to ignore the facts and are still causing damage. 

Diver Pollution/Damage

As new divers, we know it can be difficult to master our buoyancy at the beginning, but unfortunately, those are usually the main culprits of reef damage. 

But we cannot blame all the novice divers, over the years I have seen many experienced divers (even some instructors) grabbing and touching marine life, often breaking pieces of coral off in the ‘naughty act!’ 

Corals and other marine life, rely on their mucus coating for protection. When we touch them, we usually remove this layer, causing them to be exposed to diseases and pollutants in the water. 

These harmful pollutants can come directly from us divers.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to protect our skin when we are in the sun, but always opt for a reef-safe sunscreen that has no harmful toxins that could leach into the marine environment.

Leaching also comes from our exposure suits, which is why it’s important to always wash them with clean water when we buy them from the shop. By doing this, we can try and remove as many contaminants as we can that accumulate during production and handling. 

However, it is not all doom and gloom…There is some light at the end of the tunnel!

Thanks to the media, and famous faces such as Sir David Attenborough, we are very aware of the issues that humans bring to the environment which is why we can try and improve the situation!

Many organisations and dive centres have started reef reconstruction by building coral restoration sites in areas where they have became damaged or completely lost.

These projects are usually teamed up with scientists, (specifically marine biologists) that monitor the sites with the help of international volunteers and locals. By involving locals, it helps to educate more people and raise awareness of the issues locally. 

A brilliant example of these organisations is the Gili Eco Trust, based in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. It is run by friends of mine, check out the brilliant work they (and many other similar organisations around the world), are doing.

If divers see another diver physically damaging the environment, this destructive diver will likely be named and shamed, and so they should be! 

Word of mouth is a powerful tool, and raising awareness to others is important because as a scuba diver, you are an ambassador of the sea. We are extremely lucky to experience this amazing environment, which many people can only imagine. Therefore it is up to you to do something to educate these people!

How Can You Be a Sustainable Diver?

  1. Do not step on corals, touch any marine life or disturb the sediment.
  2. Dive local or go with an eco-friendly dive centre.
  3. Don’t anchor directly on a coral reef.
  4. Avoid wearing gloves; they encourages divers to touch marine life.
  5. Remove any garbage you see underwater.
  6. Be a zero-waste diver, leave only bubbles!
  7. Make responsible seafood/fish choices.
  8. Get involved with a marine conservation organisation.
  9. Take only photos, leave only bubbles.

We can be the role models of tomorrow, the future of the oceans depends on it!

Here are some tips to reduce your impact on the marine environment as a scuba diver:

1. Do Not Step on Coral or Kick the Sediment & Do Not Touch Any Marine Life

This should be VERY obvious, yet some people still do it. Touching anything causes long-term effects on marine life and increases your environmental impact while diving. 

As a beginner, it can be difficult when you are still learning the ropes of buoyancy, but remember that one flick of your fin can still cause major damage. Kicking the reef and sediment can also unsettle small animals such as nudibranchs, increasing their chances of predation from other marine organisms.  

Touching corals, plants and animals can destroy decades, or even centuries of growth in corals damages plants and harms animals. 

Always streamline your equipment and be aware of your body at all times underwater.  

2. Dive Local & Go With an Eco-friendly Dive Centre

Do you ever dive in your home country?

While a tropical adventure is extremely appealing, travel is one of the major drivers of global warming and increases in global pollution.

By reducing your air miles, you will reduce your carbon footprint and maybe be surprised by what lies on your doorstep!

Many dive centres have been awarded as eco-friendly dive centres, offering conservation programmes in an effort to sustain the environment.

These dive centres also have rules in place to reduce the impact visitors have on the environment. 

3. Don’t Pull on the Anchor & Avoid Anchoring on the Reef

Some boats will put down an anchor in areas where no mooring lines are available and if conditions require the use of one.

If the dive boat does use one, never pull on the rope attached to the anchor, as this can disrupt the sediment or even cause the anchor to become loose destroying anything in its way. 

If you see the captain is going to drop the anchor on the reef, kindly explain to them that it would be better to find an empty sandy patch – though most captains should already be aware of this if you dive with a professional dive centre. 

4. Avoid Wearing Gloves If You Can

I understand that some areas in the world are cold, I am from the UK so sometimes diving gloves are essential pieces of equipment. However, if you can avoid wearing them, do so. Wearing gloves often encourages people to touch things underwater, damaging marine life. 

5. Make Every Dive a “Dive Against Debris”

How often do you go diving and see litter in the marine environment? 

Unfortunately, it is all too often, especially after heavy rainfall and windy conditions where litter travels into our oceans from rivers and the mainland. 

It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish…this is extremely worrying!

So from now on, make every dive a “Dive Against Debris”. This is where you take a mesh bag and collect any litter whether it be plastic, or old fishing lines (be careful of hooks).

If you don’t have a mesh bag (or have forgotten it) you can fill up your BCD pockets as long as there is nothing that could damage your jacket – just remember to empty anything before your next dive and dispose of it correctly. 

Dive Against Debris is like an underwater scavenger hunt. It is lots of fun and you are protecting this fragile ecosystem at the same time!

6. Be a Zero-waste Diver

Undeveloped countries, usually do not have the appropriate facilities to dispose of waste (a lot of waste actually comes from tourists), so instead, they burn it or throw it into areas of empty land – I have even seen them throwing litter into rivers and even the ocean!

Avoid the problem in the first place by ditching single-use water bottles, and grab that reusable bottle!

Many dive centres, especially eco-dive centres, do not allow single-use plastics into their shop, plus you save so much money by buying a reusable bottle and filling it up at a water station.

APPs such as “Refill”, shows you where to refill your water bottle wherever you are in the world. 

If you do have any litter during your dive trip, take it back with you and find somewhere that you know will dispose of it correctly. 

7. Make Responsible Seafood/Fish Choices

If you eat fish and other seafood, always ensure they have been sustainably caught and are not target species.

Target species are vital for coral reef productivity, parrotfish are a good example of this. Removing parrotfish from coral reefs can cause algae to overgrow changing the reef structure dramatically.

8. Take Action

There are many conservation organisations you can get involved with. PADI run the Project AWARE Foundation. The course focuses on educating divers on protecting the ocean with two main subjects: shark conservation and marine litter. 

9. Finally, Take Only Photos, Leave Only Bubbles

The marine environment does not appreciate you taking souvenirs, that’s what cameras are for. Also as ocean ambassadors, we should not be leaving any litter behind, only bubbles. 

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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To Finish

If we dive appropriately and act as sustainable divers, scuba diving is not exceedingly bad for the environment compared to other issues such as coastal development and global warming (even though these are both human-induced issues). 

As divers, we want to limit the effect we have on the environment and through our passion and dedication, we need to continue to fight for its survival and protection. 

If we destroy the marine environment, where will we dive? 

We, as divers, can educate others – this is the most powerful tool to make society aware of human impacts and the importance of the marine environment. 

A happy environment makes a happy diver. So, remember, take only photos and leave only bubbles! 

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Darby Bonner

Darby is a marine biologist and PADI scuba diving instructor from the UK. With over ten years of diving experience, she has visited some of the best dive destinations in the world. Currently, Darby is living in Bali, Indonesia and regularly dives at some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Her passion for the ocean led her to study seals, publish a paper, and become a marine mammal medic. In the future, she hopes to complete her master’s in marine science, and of course, continue her love for teaching and diving!

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