It is old news to the majority of the public that the world's oceans are in danger. No group of people is more aware of this tragedy than scuba diving instructors.
"We are the ambassadors of the ocean. We keep our eyes and ears open. We see the most amount of change. It is our duty to let people know and help save the diving environment," said Nikole Ordway
, a PADI
scuba instructor and Reef Check
course director at Pro Dive International
in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
To be a scuba instructor is a mark of distinction that comes with a pressing responsibility. Scuba instructors have the ability to recognize changes in the environment, and the voice to encourage their divers to help address these changes by taking action in ocean conservation and practicing good diving habits. Instructors can also advance diver education by teaching courses concerning ocean conservation.
Scuba instructors are a special group because they have the unique opportunity to view the same dive spots frequently over extended periods of time. They observe the changes in the environment daily, seasonally and yearly. This constant interaction gives them an insight into the conditions of the reefs and marine life. They possess the ability to notice subtle differences that others may not and communicate these differences to those who are less informed.
When teaching open water classes, Ordway goes beyond the basics to give her divers a better understanding of the marine life. "Too many people just learn to dive without learning ocean conservation ... I try to point out the smaller things. Everyone sees the big things, but that small cleaning shrimp — what's his role?" Ordway said.
In addition to pointing out smaller marine life, Ordway also demonstrates to the divers the destruction and disease that is present. By using examples such as fleshy versus crusty algae, and how their abundance is affected by various aspects of the environment, Ordway can incorporate a hands-on learning experience without harming the environment.
Ordway believes that "people are sponges when they first learn to dive," and because she has the opportunity to teach others about the ocean, it is in an important time to be a leader in ocean conservation.
Creating environmental stewards through dive instruction
Scuba instructors also promote important diving habits that will help preserve marine life. Scuba diving is a sport where students learn to dive through replication of skills that the instructors demonstrate. During any diving course, the instructor is under a theoretical microscope as his or her student divers are watching every move and copying it. Therefore, instructors practice good habits in order to persuade students to do the same, such as staying off the reef, not touching fragile marine life and never littering from the boat.
"All my instructors, from my trip [to Fiji], to diving in other foreign places, have been great role models for my diving. They have taught me well to stay off the reef, that it is fragile, and just by watching them I have learned so much," said Erica Allen, a high school student and open water scuba diver who has participated in a number of ocean conservation activities.
Scuba instructors for organizations such as PADI also help promote continuing education classes that educate divers and snorkelers about ocean conservation.
For example, Project AWARE
is a nonprofit organization created by PADI instructors with the intention to advocate environmental conservation. PADI offers a number of Project AWARE specialties such as fish identification course, coral reef conservation course and a Project AWARE specialty.
"Divers are privileged. We have a front-row seat to the underwater world — one that others only view on documentary films and the pages of action sports magazines," said Dr. Drew Richardson, the chairman of Project AWARE Foundation, in the Project AWARE Annual Report 2009
. "But as an environmentally conscious group, we also share the furrow of worry, seeing first-hand environmental challenges beneath the surface ... but there's also a shared hope."
Richardson believes divers play an important role in the actions supporting marine conservation and many scuba divers share this idea. "I do feel like I am helping the spread of ocean conservation awareness. This summer I was certified with two diver specialties, fish identification and underwater naturalist ... I am supposed to help protect the reefs by avoiding touching underwater organisms, and help by educating the public," Allen said.
Instructors who are qualified to teach courses such as Project AWARE have a great influence over the divers they teach. Ordway
teaches Reef Check
classes and gives ocean conservation presentations at Pro Dive
. She helps divers take the next step toward diving for the scientific community, not just recreationally.
Ordway and other instructors take pride in their responsibility as leaders for the ocean. “Staying active and involved makes me realize that I have an impact. If I can make a couple people change, I feel that is a success," Ordway said.
As scuba instructors work to educate the public about conservation, the more hope there is for a brighter future for the oceans. Last year, during the Project AWARE International Cleanup Day, 879 clean-up events were held and helped remove 489,900 pounds of debris from the coastlines and the ocean, according to the Project AWARE Annual Report 2009. If efforts such as this persist, it will be an important step to advocate the change necessary to save the oceans and marine life.