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Local Divers Work to Preserve Oceans’ Health, Beauty

By  JULIA BODWELL

A diver examines a reef, careful not to disturb its fragile composition. |  Courtesy of Julia Bodwell

A diver examines a reef, careful not to disturb its fragile composition. | Courtesy of Julia Bodwell

When the Narcosis Scuba Center takes a boat of divers out into the Gulf of Mexico, they enforce the “look, don’t touch” code divers live by.

To preserve marine ecosystems, the Tarpon Springs scuba center permits nothing to be removed then brought back on board; that is, except garbage.

With more than 60 percent of the world’s reef under immediate threat from human contact, those in the diving community are taking the initiative to provide local efforts towards reef recovery.

According to Joyce Hannaseck, owner of Narcosis, the center is involved in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, the world’s largest volunteer effort for healthy oceans.

Hannaseck, the center’s staff and volunteers participate in the annual event, focusing on cleaning the reefs and the wrecks, as well as the beach and shoreline.

“We focus on anything associated with the waterways,” said Hannaseck.

They bring up anything from bottles and cans lost overboard by careless boaters to things deliberately dumped.

According to Katie Reytar, a research associate at World Resources Institute, the pressures from these local threats, such as pollution, are causing major threats such as changes in climate and ocean chemistry.

Reytar explained that the rising levels of CO2 are dissolving into the ocean and are increasing the acidity of the water, displacing the minerals corals need to build their skeletons. “If it becomes bad enough, their skeletons could actually dissolve,” said Reytar.

But starting local could prove the key to widespread action.

Along with Hannaseck and the scuba center, Dave Garrett, a dive master in Daytona, FL, participates in reef recovery and conservancy. Garrett, along with most dive instructors, is a member of PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.

PADI developed a nonprofit organization called Project AWARE, Aquatic World Awareness, Responsibility and Education.

The foundation allows divers and non-divers alike to participate in marine conservancy through many hands-on projects, including underwater and coastal cleanups and reef monitoring.

According to Garrett, PADI also offers dive specialties to further promote this awareness, including the Coral Reef Conservation Specialty and the Fish Identification Specialty. But even open water divers are educated in proper reef conservancy.

“Divers are very aware of the reef ecosystems and train during the first dive to learn buoyancy control to prevent them from touching the reef,” Garrett said. One of the first things divers learn as they train to become certified is to respect the ocean environment they are visitors in.

Most divers often go beyond this. According to Garrett, leisure divers will pick up trash off the ocean floor to help protect the reefs, a quick and effortless act that has invaluable effects.

“It’s really just about managing local threats to buy time for corals to adapt to climate change,” Reytar said.

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