Dear dive guide,
Research shows that divers who receive no environmental briefing make contact with the coral reef on average eight times per dive. 80% of these contacts are damaging and only 35% of all contacts are unintentional. As a result of receiving an environmental briefing, contacts are reduced from eight to one or two per dive, with less than 30% of these causing damage and 80% of all contacts being unintentional.
- Emphasize that there is a consistent human impact on the reefs in the red sea due to their close proximity to the shore. Reefs in other parts of the world may be a considerable boat journey away and therefore less accessible to divers. This amplifies the need for good diving practices on red sea reef.
- Do not allow divers to touch, hold onto, chase or harass marine animals. This may cause them stress or injury, or they may defend themselves and hurt a diver. Quote the story in Sharm El Sheikh where a diver towed a ride on a turtle which was trying to surface to breathe, but was drowned by the diver. The laws in vigour to protect the coastline are Law 102 from 1983 for the Protected Areas and Law 4 from 1994 for environmental protection, it is forbidden to touch Dolphins and Sea cow, turtles or any other marine life.
- Explain why feeding fish is undesirable. It can develop unnatural or even aggressive behavior in the fish and create a dependency. Food introduced from outside their habitat will not adequately satisfy their nutritional requirements and may even be toxic to them. The killing of other marine organisms to feed to fish must never be tolerated. Similarly, never allow divers to spearfish on the reef for their own consumption. It is a violation of National Parks law.
- Discourage divers from taking souvenirs such as shells or pieces of coral, as they are all part of a biological cycle. They will eventually break down and provide reef-building coral with nutrients required for the construction of their calcium carbonate exo-skeletons.
- Discourage divers from throwing litter onto the beach or over the side of the boat before or after dives. Pick up underwater litter that looks fresh. Empty out bottles and cans in case they contain small marine organisms or eggs of marine organisms. Leave any litter that looks old as it may be providing a habitat.
- Report damage done by groups or individuals that could have an effect on marine life, with if possible a photograph.
- Emphasize the importance of good buoyancy control. Ensure divers include a weight check on their first dive to aid good buoyancy. Give inexperienced divers the opportunity to practice buoyancy skills before diving close to the reef. Keep divers with poor buoyancy control at least 5 meters away from any reef. Those who are capable should stay 2 meters from the reef.
- Describe the correct procedure for closer observation of the reef. Divers should be positioned at 90° to the reef, keeping fins up high, away from coral. They should be neutrally buoyant and should just need to inhale to move away from the reef before resuming finning. Photographers must be patient and look for an appropriate area to steady themselves, not on living reef. They must be even more conscious of buoyancy than they would be if they were not taking photographs.
- Explain to divers that if they lose control and need to touch something to steady themselves, they should look for a piece of dead coral or rock and use one finger to gently push away from the reef. This is better than crashing into the reef with the whole body.
- Advice divers that they should make themselves as streamlined as possible and they should properly secure their equipment so that it doesn’t dangle. They should maintain a horizontal position, keeping knees slightly bent with their fins up to avoid touching anything.
- Instruct divers that when they want to stop in the water (for example, when they are waiting for other divers or during a safety stop) they need to have neutral buoyancy and thus should not fin vertically to stay at the same point. With beginners, make safety stops whilst swimming to keep them in a horizontal position.
- Promote awareness of fins and their proximity to the reef. Over 90% of all coral damage is the result of fin contact and usually occurs during the first 10 minutes of the dive. If divers are unintentionally settling onto a reef, they should use controlled inflation rather than finning to get out of difficulty.
- Avoid using the backward finning method when guiding unless you know for sure you are well clear of the reef, and discourage it in your divers. Guides have been observed breaking corals in this manner.
- Ensure divers stay a safe distance from the bottom according to training level and buoyancy control. Excessive fin kicking near the sandy bottom in a reef area will result in the reef dying if it happens continuously. Stirring up sand can smother coral. Coral secretes a mucous which can handle a certain level of siltation, but beyond this it dies. Furthermore, staying clear of the bottom prevents accidental crashes whenever a buoyancy problem occurs.
- Explain that coral is an animal (a polyp) living together in a symbiotic relationship with a plant (an algae called zooxanthellae). It’s important to illustrate the slow growth rates of corals (only 1cm per year in some species). It is so easy to break one, destroying hundreds of years’ growth in a second. Points out that corals are not like trees; the only growing parts are at the tips and edges. When a coral falls on the sand upside down, it eventually dies, unless quickly re-erected.
- Inform divers about the importance of the reef table. It has a close relationship with the reef slope and reef edge and cannot be considered a dead zone. It is a habitat for juvenile fish and must not be disturbed. Don’t allow divers to walk or sit on the reef table and only use marked easy entries and exits at dive sites.
- Give a brief description of the fish, coral and invertebrate species divers are likely to see. Encourage them to observe the diversity by counting the different species during the dive
Dear diving instructors, whenever you carry out diving training courses in a reef habitat, always choose an area with a sandy bottom, located away from the reef itself.
By proper Management and continuous education man can live with the coral and make it available for ever we ask you to help us make it happen. *
*: Ahmed Fouad Gad - 2006