I recently came back from the Heron Island Dive Festival where I spoke with divers from around Australia about marine debris and sharks in peril, the two major ocean protection issues being tackled by Project AWARE divers all around the world.
Heron Island is a natural coral cay 89 kms off Australia's east coast and nestled amongst the glorious corals of the the Great Barrier Reef. The 2011 Heron Island Dive Festival is a welcome return of the long-running event that was once a permanent fixture in every Australian diver's dream dive calendar.
For the first half of the festival Project AWARE was represented by Hans Ullrich, PADI Regional Manager for Queensland. Hans gave an overview of My Ocean, Project AWARE’s unique eco-networking site where dive centers, AWARE leaders and divers are taking action for ocean protection.
I arrived mid-week and was excited to tell divers how they can work with Project AWARE to help combat marine debris and gain greater protection for sharks.
Divers have a proud history of completing underwater cleanups, but despite our best efforts the rubbish keeps piling up. Many divers at the festival have completed cleanups so were interested to hear they can now help stop rubbish from entering the ocean by turning their cleanup into a Dive Against Debris, Project AWARE’s survey of underwater rubbish written just for divers.
Divers had seen several sharks during the festival, but few divers realised how dangerously close we are to losing some shark species forever. My shark talk showed divers how important sharks are to the marine environment and how they can take action to protect them. Talking to divers at events such as the Heron Island Dive Festival gives me real hope for sharks, as I see the determination that divers have to protect them once they have been told about the issues.
Divers also heard from a line up of expert speakers on subjects as diverse as how to take great underwater photos, how to dive safely avoiding both dangerous creatures and DCI, how to count fish in a marine park, how to spot illusive critters and how dive gear has evolved since the 19th century.
It’s great to see the return of the Heron Island Dive Festival after a 15 year absence. Thanks to the organisers for giving Project AWARE a chance to meet with divers and show them the important and powerful role they have in protecting our ocean.