Over 25 million divers are certified around the world with over 1 million new dive certifications issued annually by PADI. A United Nations study has predicted that tourism in the world is expected to grow to over 1.8 billion tourists by 2030, and diving is no exception to the rule.
In South Africa, marine tourism and specifically diving is a growing industry amongst the nearly 17 million annual tourists. This number is set to grow, considering South Africa has over 3,000 kilometres of pristine oceanfront to spoil tourists. This growth in human activity through is not without its problems. Whales, dolphins, and sea turtles are some of the most harmed by human activity and the goal of divers everywhere should be to help protect these animals through sustainable diving. The rapid 3% annual growth of the diving industry presents an economic opportunity for South Africa but also presents environmental risks to the planet.
What Is At Risk?
Sea creatures are not the sole concern in the future of diving, but also pollution and the destruction of marine ecosystems pose challenges. 95% of coral reefs are endangered and risk destruction if sustainable tactics are not taken to prevent further erosion. Coral reefs are the rainforests of the ocean, providing a rich habitat and ecosystem for plants and animals alike. In South Africa, many of these beautiful habitats are found in KZN or in the Western Cape in places like Sodwana Bay, north of St. Lucia or False Bay off Cape Town. Within these zones, over 25% of sea life is produced and housed, making them prime dive sites. These sites are fragile, however, as coral bleaching has already started in a few popular dive sites at Sodwana Bay and pollution from single-use plastics are harming the local turtle population. The present circumstance has been created by the pollution of our oceans by unsustainable businesses and the ecological pressure put on the oceans by human activity. Increased sustainability is needed and divers, as well as companies, should be the driving forces behind the growth of this industry and practice.
How Can Divers Help?
Individually and as groups, divers can have a real impact on ocean life. Most easy of all is to follow some simple practices to avoid further destruction of ocean habitats. When diving, do not disturb the natural order of marine life. This includes avoiding touching or playing with animals, not littering, not kicking or abusing coral reefs for better photographs or fun, not feeding the fish with irregular foods, and not stirring up condition essential to the protection of marine life. Divers can also make a move in which choosing to work with exclusively eco-friendly dive shops and visiting sustainable dive spots.
The future of diving rests with collective action. The United Nations Environment Programme announced back in 2004, the creation of a global approach to create sustainable ocean tourism through its organisation Green Fins. Mainly working in warm water climates that are dive hot spots, including the eastern coast of Africa, the organisation hopes to implement sustainable ecological standards for diving. Organisations such as this are key to setting up the standards needed by the industry in order to keep flourishing whilst maintaining the environmental security not just of dive sites, but in the ocean as a whole. Initiatives such as this will help diving to continue to grow while being a conduit for conversations and sustainable growth. Diving has been left unregulated for too long and a global approach is necessary to save the coral reefs, save marine habitats, promote sustainable tourism and growth of the industry, as well as lower ocean pollution.
By Jennifer Dawson