Protecting our coral reefs
A few thoughts on protecting our coral reefs.
As a new diver, I have only recently acquired my open water certificate and have a grand total of 6 dives at the time of this writing. However, I have been a nature lover from birth and from a very young age I have had a deep concern for the preservation of our planet. Having grown up in South Africa, there was a lot to be said about our wildlife. The Black Rhino was and is still an endangered species. Having seen plenty of White Rhinos in the various game reserves, I have never seen a Black Rhino. This is due to their rarity.
Elephants, although stronger in numbers, were being butchered for the same reasons as the Black Rhinos – greed.
As an adult, I am thankful that there was almost constant attention to the problem. Posters, commercials, campaigns etc. I even remember a McGyver episode addressing the issue. These disturbed me very much as a child. They were all intended to shock the viewer into some sort of action. As a child, it just saddened me. But it may have contributed to my appreciation of all things natural as well as a deep awareness that ‘once it’s gone…it’s gone’.
I am currently living in El Gouna, Egypt. A very picturesque part of the world indeed. If you have not looked it up, it is a coastal town on the upper the Red Sea coast of Egypt. To the west is the Sahara desert. And to the east is the Red Sea. Crystal clear water with unbelievable visibility and turquoises that are are too beautiful to describe. Under the water are the richest, most diverse and plentiful coral reefs. This is why this area is one of the best dive spots in the world. People come from all over the world to dive here and never leave disappointed. As a nature lover myself, the appeal of this ‘other world’ is too strong to ignore. And while I, and most likely you, go into it with a deep respect. Others don’t.
Classed as an extreme sport, scuba diving appeals to more than just nature lovers. It’s something to put on their brag-CV. Without respect for seas and no spiritual connection to it, diving is a temporary kick which only serves as a stepping stone to the next kick. And so on. Sure, there is such a thing as competitive diving with achievements along the way, but this article is about leisure and tourism.
The Dilemma with leisure diving.
Everybody is entitled to enjoy the earth. And if there is an opportunity to see the Red Sea coral, I would, and have taken it. I did my training with Divers’ Lodge in Hurghada. Some of my fellow students and I were talking about how fortunate we are to be able to see what is actually under the sea. Scuba diving was invented by Jacque-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan in 1943. That leaves the entire existence of humanity living before the 1950’s excluded from this opportunity. We live in a time when more is available and achievable than ever before. Cousteau was generous enough to film areas of the sea previously unexplored and share it with the world via documentary. But nothing comes close to the real thing. Scuba diving evolved into what it is today and with some fairly straightforward training, you can experience the wonders of the see.
The ease and convenience brings with it a dark side. It attracts the aforementioned destroyers – people who think the ocean is scoffed at. While on my training, a very experienced diver named Phil was telling me how heartbroken he was when he was diving with a fairly new diver who proceeded to break off a very impressive piece of coral and pretend it was a spear. He fancied himself as Neptune – god of the sea….And sadly, there are many of these types of people who come to dive in all the good spots all over the world.
There was a story, told to me by my instructor, about a different diver who, knowing its forbidden to take coral as a souvenir, tried to hide some down the front of in his wetsuit. It turned out to be fire coral. Fire being the operative word. Technically, it’s not actually a coral. Its more closely related to jellyfish – and stings like a….Apparently, his chest was a deeper red than severe sunburn. I like to call this Poetic Justice.
But none of us is pure. When I read that suncream contributes to the destruction of coral, I was saddened. As a ginger, suncream and I are rarely apart. So, if I’m snorkelling, I use a rash vest. But we’ve all bumped coral, kicked it with fins by accident, and even your presence in the sea disrupts the natural flow of things.
So what do we do? Put a ban on diving? Limit it? Put a tax on it? Make it reeeeallly expensive and keep only the true enthusiasts? None of this will work as diving and tourism are big industries. And if money needs to be made, little can be done to change things.
My small attempt at an answer.
While with my fellow students on the Divers Lodge boat, one mentioned that if we, as humans, left the ocean completely alone for 1 year, it would rejuvenate to its original equilibrium. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. Nor do I know how somebody came to that conclusion. But it did get me thinking:
What if local governments denied access to certain reefs or sections of reef for a year at a time? Allow it to grow, completely undisturbed. Divers are free to explore any of the other reefs as normal. Dive companies could continue as normal without any effect on their business. Once that year is up, close off the next reef or reefs. Give it a chance.
This is by no means a ‘save all’ solution. More of a save some, some of the time.
I would be interested to hear others thoughts. Could this be a reality, or is it just fantasy?