A green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) swims underneath trash brought in by currents. Turtles often ingest plastic, which can cause harm and even kill them
As divers we are very privileged to experience the beauty of our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes. Dive tourism is becoming more and more popular, and this can have both positive and negative effects on the very environment we love so much. It should be our duty to keep our impact as low as possible: how we dive and where we go to spend our hard-earned cash can have a positive impact—if we want it to. As underwater photographers, we are able to share this world with others and inspire conservation.
Here are some tips on being a positive eco-tourist and an effective activist.
Be a Positive Eco-Tourist
- No picture is worth harassing wildlife or damaging the environment. This should always be your number one rule. Unfortunately, photographers often have a bad reputation for this. Making sure you have good buoyancy control before taking down a camera can avoid damaging fragile corals by accident.
- Avoid supporting any kind of tourism that can have a negative impact on animals. Feeding fish or touching animals should never happen.
A diver photographs a pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus) at Monad Shoal, Philippines. This dive site has seen a fair bit of diver damage but also created a lot of awareness for this species. In order to prevent further damage, local dive shops have put up lines at the regularly visited cleaning stations. Divers are not allowed to venture past these lines
- Support good practices. Spending your money at a dive shop or resort that gives back to the environment and sticks to sustainable practices can make a difference. Many resorts do beach cleanups and reef checks you can take part in. Greenfins is an organization that helps dive shops and resorts to protect coral reefs by establishing and implementing guidelines for a sustainable dive and snorkel industry. On their website you can find certified resorts and more information on good practices.
A diver from humanitarian NGO Concern Worldwide checks on coral fragments used for a reef rehabilitation program in Concepcion, Philippines. Rehabilitating the reef, which was heavily damaged by Typhoon Haiyan, is essential for the local fishermen since they rely on it for their livelihood
- Be a citizen scientist. There are many platforms where you can share your encounters and help scientists with their research, from whale sharks to seahorses. Our observations matter and can really help science and conservation. Some of the best ones for divers are Project Noah, iSeahorse, whaleshark.org and the Manta Trust.
Scientists from Silliman University in the Philippines studying the reef at Apo Island. Creating awareness about the important work scientists are doing to save our blue planet can help them with getting grants and volunteers
- Avoid places that are too crowded. Big crowds can have a negative impact on wildlife and keep them from their normal behavior. For example, research has shown that in Donsol, Philippines, whale sharks stopped feeding and went into avoidance behavior when too many tourists were surrounding them. There are still plenty off places to go without the crazy crowds. Researching this before you go anywhere is a good idea.
A big crowd of snorkelers follow a whale shark (Rhincodon typus) in Donsol, Philippines. Regulations here say that only one boat and six people are allowed per shark—in reality the rules are rarely followed
Be an Effective Activist
- If you want to add something extra to your photography, try working with a non-governmental organization (NGO). Often the smaller NGOs don’t have a big budget for media exposure but this can definitely help them a lot. It will also really improve your storytelling abilities as a photographer and might be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have.
Greenpeace activists show their message during the Ocean Defender Tour in the Philippines. This tour got nationwide media exposure and urged for more protection of local marine resources
- Apart from working with NGOs, there are many scientists who do excellent research and conservation work that often goes unseen. Helping them get some exposure and great visuals can obtain them more research grants and get their findings seen by a bigger audience.
Volunteers from the Large Marine Vertebrate Project prepare to remove a fishing line and hook from this hawksbill turtle, which was brought in by a local fisherman
- All too often we just focus on the beauty around us. A camera can be a powerful tool and documenting environmental issues can make a difference. This can even be done in your own backyard.
Anna Oposa from Save Philippine Seas dives a reef in Dauin, Philippines, right after a typhoon caused massive destruction. Images like this can push local authorities to put in more effort in reef protection and rehabilitation
It’s not always pretty images that need to be seen; this is a daily sight in the Deira Fish Market in Dubai
A fishmonger cuts up a reef shark in the Gadong wet market in Brunei Darussalam. In June 2013, Brunei banned the catching and selling of sharks in its waters, setting a great example for the region
- Try shooting and documenting something that hasn’t been done before or something that gets less or little attention. We all love seeing and photographing sharks and whales, but let’s face it, they get enough coverage already. Of course, they need it but there are so many passionate environmentalists already working hard on their protection that your own efforts might be more useful elsewhere. Ask yourself if more images of your subject and story are really needed—if you think so, then go for it!
Project Seahorse and their citizen science project iSeahorse are a great way to help seahorse conservation. You can log all your seahorse sightings on their website to give scientists a better idea of their population, habitat and distribution
A critically endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) seeks shelter underneath a water lily. The Mabuwaya Foundation is working hard to conserve this crocodilian endemic to the Philippines. With fewer than 100 adult animals in the wild, the Philippine crocodile is the most endangered crocodile in the world
- Don’t stop with just taking images. Sharing them with as many people as possible, especially those who don’t dive, can help to conserve our blue planet. If you’re taking images of environmental and conservation issues, try getting the attention of people who can help effect change. Local newspapers, politicians and NGOs with a green conscience can often be of great help.
Crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) can wipe out a reef quickly if their numbers are not controlled. When an outbreak occurs, it’s important to deal with it quickly and remove the starfish properly. Local dive shops and volunteers can play a big part by collecting them. Through photography and social media you can help by finding volunteers, and even funding, to deal with problems like this
Plan Your Adventure >