A Force for Good: the Reachers and Teachers

The planet’s environmental health is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Looking at the innovation, initiatives and social ground swell happening on all fronts, we know we can rise to the challenge through dedication, focus, tenacity and importantly, by working on hearts and minds as well as preservation and restoration. Involving kids – the coming generations who will inherit the Earth – is crucial for our future. Global conservation is making great strides, but a sustainable future demand that it becomes an ongoing mindset that expands and gets passed on.

And, it’s happening, thanks to divers who reach and teach youngsters to share a passion that goes beyond diving to protecting and restoring the underwater world. In Tahiti, the Moorea Coral Gardeners – a growing team of youngsters (and some not-so-youngsters) – freedives to replant coral to reverse damage to Moorea, Tahiti’s incredible reefs (still awesome, by the way). But, they go further, educating local youth about why all the world’s coral reefs are environmentally and economically important, and need preservation. The Gardeners started as a local youth coral restoration project and now, through social media, they touch lives everywhere with an age-spanning team of international professional athletes, actors, and media stars.

The U.S.-based Kids Sea Camp, founded by PADI Instructor Margo Peyton, involves youngsters starting at age 4 (snorkeling) at some of diving’s best and most popular south Pacific and Caribbean destinations. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at Kids Scuba Syed Abd Rahman is on a parallel mission, bringing new talent into diving’s ranks by uniting ocean and coral conservation with diver training. Both groups introduce youth to wonderous, eye-opening underwater adventures while embracing diving’s higher purpose as the underwater world’s ambassadors and protectors. Still other divers reach kids wherever they are; in Koh Tao, Guy Corsellis talks with kids at the Koh Tao International Primary School about marine life, how it behaves, why it’s important and how to be kind to the environment.

There are many examples like these, and there need to be more because through involvement, engagement and example, young divers learn that the ocean and coral reefs are not just awesome, but threatened. They learn why and, most importantly, what we can all do about it – and we’re talking about more than coral. Showing our youth the underwater world and coral reefs is the best place to start in building a global culture that lives harmoniously with the global environment. People who experience coral reefs come to care about them quickly – and because these are the world’s environmental barometers, it’s often where we see subtle changes first. People focused in preserving this fragile environment will take on the bigger environmental issues because almost all of them ultimately affect the coral reefs. In other words, to preserve and restore the coral, we really have to preserve and restore the world environment.

Let’s applaud the reachers and teachers who motivate young people to embrace the underwater world, but I challenge all of us to also beone of them. Share your diving experiences with the kids in your life – at schools, youth centers, clubs, neighborhood, home — anywhere you cross paths. Explain why the oceans, reefs and the creatures living there are special and important, and how choices like reusing and recycling make a difference. Offer to introduce them to a dive instructor if you’re not one yet, or teach them to dive if you are.

Then, watch their eyes light up when they see, hear and feel what you and I have come to love so much. It’s one of the most rewarding ways to contribute to a better future.

 

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

AWARE Week Successes and Stories

Article by Tara Bradley

As AWARE Week wrapped up on 23 September, the amount of dive operators, instructors, and dive communities that participated in events throughout the world was impressive. From Project AWARE Specialty courses, to neighborhood barbecues to Dive Against Debris® events collecting over 22,000 pounds of trash, here’s how our fellow dive operators helped make AWARE Week a success.

United Arab Emirates: Divers Down UAE

Divers Down UAE collected over 110 pounds of marine debris during their Dive Against Debris event. As a way of creating shark awareness, they also conducted an AWARE Shark Conservation Specialty course for 14 of their PADI divers.

Thailand: Crystal Dive Koh Tao

The team at Crystal Dive Koh Tao spent the week conducting Dive Against Debris and AWARE Shark Conservation specialties. To finish off the event, they celebrated with a free barbecue night for all of the participants.

Curacao: Blue Bay on Curacao

A group of volunteers came together in Curacao for a beach clean-up at Hole 6. In addition to the two full boats of divers and snorkelers, participants signed up for the PADI Invasive Lion Fish Specialty Course to assist in catching the invasive species.

Australia: Dive Centre Manly

The group at Dive Centre Manly gathered 30 people for their “Blue Backyard Cleanup.” The majority of the items retrieved were plastic wrappers, single-use coffee cups, straws, cutlery, Styrofoam, and hundreds of unidentifiable pieces of plastic. As an added reward, the nearby Hawkesbury Brewing Co. gave the participants a very well-deserved free beer.

Spain: Balky Sub

In Spain, Balky Sub’s group were on one of the area’s cleaner dive sites and still recovered more than 11 pounds of plastic in one day – mostly consisting of plastic bottles and bags. And since every day is AWARE Week for this team, they make an effort to pick up trash from the ocean and beach on a daily basis.

Philippines: Dive Funatics

Before they conducted their monthly Dive Against Debris event on 22 September, Dive Funatics, located in the Philippines held a peak performance buoyancy clinic to ensure all of their divers had a chance to polish up their buoyancy. To thank their divers, participants received a T-shirt in addition to a bracelet made of upcycled debris collected from their August Dive Against Debris event.

Jordan: Deep Blue Dive Center

Deep Blue Dive Center teamed up with the Tala Bay Resort team by hosting a Dive Against Debris at Tala Bay marina on 12 September. The result: The crew cleaned up over 140 pounds of waste in 20 bags. But they didn’t stop there. The following week, a group of 15 divers conducted another clean-up.

Bonaire: Dive Friends Bonaire

From 15-21 September, Dive Friends Bonaire organized a range of activities to fight ocean pollution. With seven locations and five house reefs on-island, the group worked to promote conservation with Dive Against Debris dives on every house reef.

Florida: Rainbow Reef Divers

Since Rainbow Reef divers host a Dive Against Debris event every month, they were quick to jump into action for AWARE Week. In September, their boat removed and recorded over 2,000 pounds of marine debris.

 

AWARE Week may be over, but there are countless ways to keep your local community involved all year long. Here’s How to Make Every Week AWARE Week.

A Force for Good: the Restorers

One thing about divers and the tenacity of the human spirit is that when we face a challenge, we size it up and then find a way over it, around it or through it. We’re handling coral stress and decline the same way. Today divers, partnering with scientists, have been at the heart of dozens of coral restoration initiatives, with research and practice in coral farming and transplanting growing and spreading. In my last blog post, I linked to the Coral Restoration Project, birthed by diver Dr. David Vaughan of Mote Marine Laboratory, who in starting some of the first coral nurseries, discovered how to grow coral 25 to 40 times faster than before. His discovery is one of the major breakthroughs we needed to start replacing coral on a large scale, and is just one example.

Jump to PADI AmbassaDiver Andre Miller MSc in Barbados. Recognizing that documenting coral damage is important but not a solution, Andre spearheaded a local effort to relocate endangered corals and to repopulate damaged heads. With a 90+% survival rate, this effort has already spread to several destinations in the Caribbean. Check out this link for locations and some amazing before and after images.

Photo: Coral Restoration Foundation™

One more example, the Coral Restoration Foundation™,  Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire and Curacao, with extensive participation by local PADI Dive Centers, visiting divers and the local dive community, their emphasis is staghorn and elkhorn corals, which are important because they provide structure and habitat, yet are listed as threatened by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Today, the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo, Florida, has the capacity to grow more than 22,000 corals to a reef-ready size in one year, and has, to date, planted more than 74,000 corals back onto the Florida Reef Tract.

All the ways divers are central to restoring and reviving the underwater world could go on for pages, but three important points:

First, there’s a place for you in coral restoration. Head to tropical water and chances are the dive community’s doing it or getting it going – and needs your help because coral restoration requires divers. There is a lot of caretaking and routine maintenance to grow and transplant coral and to do this properly. Several dive operators teach PADI Coral Restoration distinctive specialties or host experiences that get you involved hands on. If you’re local and can participate regularly, even better. And, the coral colony you plant tomorrow could still be there — and much larger — when your descendants swim by on some dive in the distant future. Pretty cool.

Second, preservation is a pivotal part to coral restoration. Although restoration is accelerating, globally, coral decline is ahead. We have to address the drivers that accelerate coral loss as well as replant more to close this gap. Besides, replanting ultimately fails if new coral can’t survive anyway. So, every time you reduce your carbon footprint, recycle plastic, reduce debris, choose sustainable seafood, vote for the protection and conservation of aquatic resources and the marine environment and so on, you are helping to restore coral.

Third, we need to be realistic but also optimistic. Twenty-five million plus divers is an overwhelming force – with more than ten times the world’s largest military force, and an allegiance to a healthy, livable planet, it is a positive force that can change things. So, as I said before, the seas are in trouble, but the situation is far from hopeless because you’re on their side. We’re already moving, but let’s do more, faster. If you’re not sure where you fit in best, start your own journey and informed discussions with others.

 

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

Riding a Whale Shark? Outrageous and Unacceptable!

Unbelievable! Maybe you’ve seen the viral video of scuba divers in Indonesia riding a whale shark? In this day and age, someone has the nerve to do something like this? It makes me furious!

This kind of behavior is not okay for anyone, anywhere, anytime, but especially unacceptable for us divers. It’s a big deal – not just for the poor animal being mugged to exhaustion by divers amid its survival struggles (though that is a supreme part of it), but for the entire dive community. We’re supposed to be the ambassadors of the underwater world – the collective voice of care and concern that speaks up to protect our endangered seas from abuses like overfishing, plastic debris, shark finning and wide-scale pollution. Marine Animal Protection is one of PADI’s Pillars of Change, and I know the vast majority – probably more than 99.9% – of divers would never do something like this, and actively support what the dive community’s doing to protect the oceans.

But, this video paints us as hypocrites who exploit marine animals for our own entertainment – but not only that, these divers were breaking international and local laws (whale sharks have been protected by Indonesian law since 2013) that the dive community has been breaking its back to help put in place. Researchers think that whale sharks have declined 63% in the Indo-Pacific in the last 75 years, around 30% in the Atlantic, with a 50% reduction overall in the last decade. This is why IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) considers the whale shark endangered.

Whale Sharks are intelligent marine animals, seeing one suffering at the hands of joy riding scuba divers is outrageous! You should be outraged too – and I know many of you are as evidenced  by the thousands of enraged posts this video prompted and continues to prompt. I’ve noted reports that the divers (or some of them) have been arrested, and we’ll trust Indonesian law to be just. The arrests themselves show that the issue and law are taken seriously – as they should be.

Please speak up if you have not yet. The world needs to know that this isn’t us. This isn’t diving. Your voice matters – as Irish statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good [people] to do nothing.” Silence is often taken as acceptance – and that cannot stand! If any nondivers you know saw the video, tell them it shows unacceptable, irresponsible behavior. Your personal contact delivering the message makes a big difference – it is a voice of authority because you’re a scuba diver, freediver or both. We can all help turn this negative incident into positive change by educating divers and nondivers about the Responsible Shark and Ray Tourism Guide jointly produced by Project AWARE, WWF and Manta Trust.

Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax – speaking for the trees, we are divers, speaking for the seas. We are champions of our ocean planet, so let’s act like it. Please help spread the word that the diving family is a force for good in the world, and we don’t and won’t tolerate these kinds of behaviors.

 

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

Help Divers Protect Their Skin Without Harming Coral Reefs

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According to a recent study, even a tiny amount of toxic sunscreen can kill coral. Unfortunately, popular sunscreens made by Banana Boat, Coppertone, Neutrogena and others contain oxybenzone, a chemical proven to be hazardous to reefs. Toxic sunscreen has become such a problem, Hawai’i may pass a law banning sunscreen made with oxybenzone.

Unfortunately, choosing a product labeled biodegradable or coral reef safe isn’t enough. Chemicals toxic to coral such as butylparaben, octinoxate, 4-methylbenzylidine, camphor and the infamous oxybenzone (also known as benzophenone-3 or BP-3) have been found in products labeled coral reef safe. Before you restock your sunscreen, take a few seconds to ensure it doesn’t contain the ingredients above, or choose a product from our vetted list below.

The sun protection products below received high marks from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and consumers on Amazon.com. These are the least-hazardous sunscreen products on the market (according to EWG’s 2017 research) that also received a minimum 3.5 star score from consumers on Amazon.com. You can view the specific products and links to consumer reviews on our earlier blog post: The Best Natural Sunscreen for Scuba Divers and Snorkelers.

Reef-friendly sunscreen manufacturers – view wholesale info online

Badger Balm

Stream2Sea

WaxHead

Reef-friendly sunscreen manufacturers – contact for wholesale info

Blue Lizard

Beyond Coastal

BurnOut – phone 800-798-7970 or email shona@burnoutsun.com

All Terrain (natural sunscreen and natural bug repellent) call 978-886-3218 or email David Kuykendall dkuykendall@allterrainco.com

Note: no sunscreen has been proven to be 100% reef-safe, but sunscreens made with titanium oxide or zinc oxide do not appear to be harmful to corals (source: NOAA). Chemical processes are used to create any sunscreen, even mineral-based ones.

The best solution for divers and snorkelers is to cover up rather than slather on. A rashguard with UV protection is a better environmental choice than any sunscreen. Choose a long-sleeve version for maximum coverage.

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By promoting reef-friendly alternatives to toxic sunscreens, dive operators can reduce their impact on our ocean planet and support the Ocean Health Pillar (one of PADI’s Four Pillars of Change). That said, threats such as coastal pollution, overfishing, and sedimentation are a greater threat to coral reefs than sunscreen. PADI encourages all Members to support the conservation efforts of Project AWARE through donations and education.