Divers should take special care in avoiding coral destruction. Ten dive tips are discussed to prevent an accidental collision with coral reefs.
Divers make up one of the few segments of American society that can truly appreciate the fragile nature of a coral reef. They are the ones who actually see the reef close up, as well as the damage caused by a careless fin stroke or dragging anchor. With this awareness comes responsibility and this is why divers must take special care to avoid coral destruction.
Here are ten ways that you, as a responsible diver, can avoid an accidental collision with coral reefs:
1 REMOVE EXCESS LEAD FROM YOUR WEIGHTBELT: You can best achieve neutral buoyancy by removing unnecessary weight. Overweighted divers are constantly inflating and deflating their BCs – often too late to avoid crashing into fragile formations. Also, make sure your weightbelt fits snugly and that the release buckle is secure. A falling weightbelt is like a wayward bomb.
2 AVOID RAPID NEGATIVE DESCENT: Exhaling most of the air in your lungs and plunging toward the bottom feet first is an invitation to disaster. You are likely to drop like a stone, picking up speed as you go. Crashing into the bottom with your fins can smash or damage as much as nine square feet of living seafloor. Instead, descend head first or horizontally while finning your way toward the bottom.
3 RELAX YOUR BREATHING: Avoid breathing too deeply, as full inhalations and exhalations can affect your buoyancy by as much as 10 pounds. Fully inflated lungs can cause you to rise, while full exhalations can send you crashing to the bottom. Take shorter breaths and exhale slowly to minimize buoyancy fluctuations.
4 CONTROL YOUR FINS: Fin control and kicking technique are just as important as buoyancy control. When swimming over a coral reef, use shallow kicks instead of long, deep strokes. Be aware of the position of your fins at all times and don’t let them come closer than two feet from the coral. Also, avoid stirring up the bottom, as an underwater sand storm can choke and smother delicate coral polyps.
5 CEASE KICKING IF YOUR FIN STRIKES SOMETHING: It is often difficult to see what’s happening because your fins are directly behind you. If you feel a fin come in contact with something solid, immediately cease kicking. Look behind or below you to determine the source of the problem. You can rise off the reef or away from it using your hands.
6 SECURE YOUR OCTOPUS AND CONSOLE: Instrument consoles and extra second stages are attached by long hoses. Don’t allow these accessories to hang freely, dragging on the bottom or snagging delicate corals. Secure them to your BC with quick disconnect fasteners that are designed specifically for this task.
7 AVOID USING YOUR FINS AS BUMPERS: If you feel as though you are losing your balance or being swept into a coral reef by a current, don’t use your fins as bumpers. Fins are large and often very stiff and can cause a great deal of destructive damage to fragile living corals. Instead, steady yourself with your arms by placing two fingertips on a portion of the reef that may already be dead. These dead zones are easy to identify as they are often covered with algae. The two finger push away causes the least amount of damage.
8 BE AWARE OF BUOYANCY CHANGES DURING DESCENT: Divers wearing wetsuits must be alert to a gradual increase in negative buoyancy as they descend deeper. Even a thin, 3mm tropical wetsuit will lose buoyancy at depth as the increased water pressure squeezes the gas cells within the foam material. You must compensate for these changes by adding a small puff of air to your buoyancy compensator.
9 BE AWARE OF UNSEEN CURRENTS: As a diver explores a coral reef, he or she may suddenly encounter a current around a point, pass or channel. Battling such currents can often prove fruitless, as well as damaging to the surrounding corals. Keep your head down and your fins on an upward angle so your strong fins strokes don’t smash the bottom. Pull yourself along the bottom carefully, one hand at a time. Be careful to select dead spots on the reef when searching for the next handhold.
10 WATCH OUT FOR SURGE: Coral reef exploration in shallow water can be hazardous if there is wave action on the surface. The power and momentum of ocean waves can reach deep below the surface, causing strong, invisible forces that tend to push you into coral reefs. Maintain a respectable distance from the shoreline and coral reefs. Look for those telltale signs of surge – an alternating back and forth motion that runs perpendicular to the shoreline.
Coral reef preservation starts with you. It is each and every diver’s responsibility to leave a reef just as he/she found it – with nothing broken and nothing damaged.